A specially authorized court today ruled to sentence 22 year old university students Ferhat Tüzer and Berna Yılmaz to eight years, five months and 20 days in prison and Utku Aykar to two years, two months and 20 days behind bars for unfurling a banner demanding free education while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was delivering a speech.
Tüzer and Yılmaz had already remained under arrest for 19 months, and they are set to serve for another four and a half years behind bars if the Supreme Court of Appeals ratifies the verdict.
"This verdict shows why specially authorized courts need to be abolished. They received prison terms for voicing a legally [sanctioned] and democratic demand. These courts [represent] a significant impediment before the freedom of speech," defendant lawyer Taylan Tanay told bianet.
"Courts have turned monstrous"
"The right to a fair trial has been violated since the start of this case. The [previous] prosecutor who requested these kids' acquittal [landed in Istanbul's] Büyükçekmece district in short order by means of a decree. His special authority was revoked," Tanay said in today's trial.
"The prime minister had said 'these courts have turned monstrous.' What can they do when these youngsters have been undergoing trial for years? These courts have truly turned monstrous," he told the court.
Justice Aytekin Ozanlı replied, in turn: "Are we monsters then?"
"I did not call you monsters. I merely related the prime minister's assessment," Tanay then told the court delegation.
The court subsequently sentenced Tüzer and Yılmaz to six years and three months on the charge of "membership in a terrorist organization," and two years, two months and 20 days for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization." The court acquitted Aykar from the charge of membership, however, and sentenced him to two years, two months and 20 days in prison only for making propaganda on its behalf.
Yılmaz was a senior student at Ankara University's Department of Anthropology, while Tüzer was a sophomore at Trakya University's Department of Mechanical Engineering in northwestern Turkey.
15 years of difference between two prosecutors
Tüzer and Yılmaz had opened a banner that read "We want free education, and we will get it" while Prime Minister Erdoğan was delivering a speech at a meeting on March 14, 2010, while Aykar distributed brochures expressing the same demand.
Law enforcement officials then took all three of them under custody in no time, and Tüzer and Yılmaz were subsequently arrested by the Istanbul specially authorized 10th Court for Serious Crimes.
The students were then accused of being members of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP/C) and making propaganda on its behalf and consequently faced the charge of "membership in a terrorist organization" in accordance with the 5th article of the Anti- Terror Law.
Yılmaz and Tüzer remained under arrest for 19 months, but the court subsequently ruled to release them on Oct. 6, 2011.
Former case prosecutor Kasım İlimlioğlu had requested the suspects' release and acquittal when he stated his legal opinion during the hearing on May 24, 2011 on the grounds that their act fell within the scope of the freedom of speech, a constitutional right.
The new prosecutor Adem Özcan, however, argued during the hearing on March 8 that the three students were members of a terrorist organization and requested between seven and a half to 15 years of imprisonment for all of them.
Another case of unfurling a banner
Meral Dönmez, a teacher, and Gülşah Işıklı have also been serving prison sentences at the Kandıra No. 2 T-Type Prison in Kandıra in the northwestern province of Kocaeli since Dec. 5, 2011.
Işıklı, a 23 year old student at Ankara University, and Dönmez are also standing trial at the Istanbul 15th Court for Serious Crimes on the charge of "membership in a terrorist organization."
Dönmez and Işıklı had hung up a banner that read "We want democratic high schools, not a missile shield" from the window of lawyer Hurşit Berk's office in Kocaeli, in reference to the U.S. missile shield whose radars Turkey is hosting.
Meral Dönmez, 25, had graduated from Kocaeli University's Faculty of Education in 2009 but had been teaching private courses, as she could not receive an assignment to a teaching post. Dönmez and Işıklı will attend their next hearing on July 30. (AS)