Amnesty International (AI) issued a public statement on Wednesday regarding the controversial verdict in the trial of the murderers of Turkish teen protester Ali İsmail Korkmaz, saying the “convictions fail to bring justice.”
The AI statement said two police officers, Mevlüt Saldoğan and Yalçın Akbulut, were convicted for a lesser offense of “deliberately wounding and causing the death” of the 19-year-old Korkmaz. Saldoğan was sentenced to 10 years, 10 months in prison and Akbulut was sentenced to 10 years instead of facing punishment for the charge of “deliberate killing.” This charge, under which Saldoğan was prosecuted, would have carried a life sentence.
The statement stressed that a video of the police officers and civilians beating Korkmaz was shown to the court during the trial, noting that “Officer Saldoğan is seen in the video repeatedly kicking him [Korkmaz] in the head as he lay motionless on the ground after the attack.”
AI also stated that two other police officers involved in the deadly beating of Korkmaz, Şaban Gökpınar and Hüseyin Engin, were acquitted of all charges due to a “lack of evidence,” while three civilians also involved in the incident were sentenced to six years and eight months each. A fourth suspect has been sentenced to three years in jail but released from prison due to time served on remand.
The statement mentioned the numerous setbacks the Korkmaz trial was subject to, such as tampering with the CCTV evidence that recorded the attack.
“Hundreds more complaints into police violence look increasingly unlikely even to come to court,” AI said, adding that two further cases involving strong evidence of excessive police force leading to deaths during the Gezi Park protests remain unresolved.
The organization elaborated on these cases by saying the trial concerning the death of Abdullah Cömert, who was hit by a tear gas canister in Antakya, continues, and that Turkish prosecutors have failed to identify the policeman who fired the tear gas canister that led to death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan.
The statement concluded: “Overall, the judicial machinery has been ineffective in bringing police abuses to justice in the face of obstructiveness and failure to provide evidence by law enforcement agencies. The Turkish authorities must bring [a] swift and just conclusion to the many hundreds of complaints that are still pending and bring all those responsible for human rights abuses to justice.”
A local court handed down Saldoğan and Akbulut’s sentences on Wednesday, causing strong reactions from the victim’s family and the general public. The prosecutor was seeking up to 16 years for Akbulut on charges of willfully causing serious injury and death. The two police officers are expected to stay only two-and-a-half years in prison, as they have already spent one-and-a-half years in jail and will benefit from the law on probation.
The court’s verdict was protested by Korkmaz’s family and others present in the courtroom. “God damn such justice,” shouted the slain teen’s mother, Emel Korkmaz. “The life of a person, the life of Ali İsmail, should not have been this cheap. They are beating a 19-year-old teen to death and getting 10 years. Is this justice in this country? The whole world knows how Ali was killed. I could not watch the footage [showing Korkmaz being beaten by police]. The life of my son should not have been this cheap,” the grieving mother said.
Korkmaz, a first-year student at Eskişehir University, died of a brain hemorrhage after remaining comatose for 38 days following the incident in which he was beaten by a group of four plainclothes police officers and four civilians in the street. The incident took place during the nationwide Gezi Park protests that swept Turkey in the summer of 2013. Korkmaz attended a march in Eskişehir and fled the police, who fired tear gas and used water cannons on the peaceful demonstrators. The assailants accosted and tripped Korkmaz as he was running on a side road. The group then beat Korkmaz with bats and kicked him in the head.
The protests started over a government plan to demolish İstanbul’s Gezi Park in Taksim Square and replace it with a replica of Ottoman-era barracks. The attack on Korkmaz further stoked tensions at the time, angering protesters even more.