By Aneta Orlowska
The case of Ismet Ozcelik, a Turkish national, has once again highlighted the concerns surrounding justice and the legal profession in Turkey. Ozcelik, an academic who has been held in detention since 2017 on alleged links to a cleric blamed for a 2016 coup attempt, was due for release from prison. However, his departure has been extended by an additional ten months, raising questions about the fairness and independence of the Turkish legal system.
Ozcelik, along with Turgay Karaman, a school principal, was deported from Malaysia to Turkey in 2017, where they were accused of ties to the network of Fethullah Gulen. The Gulen movement, led by an influential Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, aims to provide devout Muslims with the necessary secular education for success in contemporary society while also emphasising the importance of traditional religious teachings. The movement promotes a tolerant form of Islam, highlighting values such as altruism, modesty, hard work, and education (Pew Research Center, 2010).
Since the failed coup attempt, the Turkish government has detained and jailed tens of thousands of people, pending trial, on suspicion of involvement with Gulen’s network. Human rights organizations have criticized this widespread crackdown for its impact on the rule of law and the right to a fair trial.
One of the key pieces of evidence used against Ozcelik was the allegation that he had used a mobile app called Bylock, which Turkish authorities claimed was used exclusively by Gulen’s followers. However, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has clarified that using Bylock cannot serve as reasonable suspicion for arrest or evidence for a conviction. Despite this, Ozcelik’s requests for an expert panel examination to contest the claims against him were denied, violating the principle of equality of arms in the legal process.
In addition to the Bylock allegation, Ozcelik’s participation in a protest and his social media posts criticizing the government’s actions were presented as evidence of his alleged membership in an armed terrorist organization. The UN Human Rights Committee and the ECtHR have emphasized protecting the fundamental rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. They have stated that these activities should not be criminalized without concrete evidence of involvement in illegal or terrorist activities.
Another contentious aspect of the case is the involvement of a private education company, Polat A.S., with which Ozcelik was a shareholder. Turkish authorities accused the company of being a front for carrying out alleged terrorist activities. However, critics argue that no concrete evidence substantiates this claim. Polat A.S. was a legally incorporated company operating under Turkish law and with a license from the Ministry of Education. Using such legal activities as grounds for criminal conviction raises concerns about the validity of the charges against Ozcelik.
The extension of Ozcelik’s detention by ten months has raised further concerns about the erosion of justice and the stifling of the legal profession in Turkey. Human rights defenders and legal experts have consistently expressed worries about arbitrary detention and the use of terrorism charges against individuals who exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest.
The case of Ismet Ozcelik and others like him underscores the need for Turkey to uphold fundamental principles of justice, independence, and respect for human rights. International bodies, including the United Nations, have called for the release of detainees like Ozcelik and have highlighted the importance of providing effective remedies for those who have suffered violations of their rights.
As the detention of Ismet Ozcelik continues, it remains a stark reminder of the challenges facing the Turkish legal system and the urgent need for reforms to protect the rights and freedoms of all individuals.
Note: This article is based on available information and does not constitute legal advice or an official statement of the events described.
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