I arrived at Ankara Esenboga Airport early on the morning of March 30, the day of Sandra Bakutz’s trial. I had no problems at passport control and was taken to a flat in Ankara’s Mamak district where I had a few hours’ sleep before going to the trial. It was due to start at 10:45 at Ankara’s Adliye Sarayi (Palace of Justice), which is in fact the senior court building in the country. It is a large, ugly, dirty brown building.
I was taken to Abdi Ipekci Park, which is named after a liberal journalist who was killed by Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish fascist who later went on to shoot the late John Paul II back in 1981. The park is a scene of free speech protests and supporters of political prisoners have an ongoing protest there, though this is frequently attacked by the police. In the park I met other elegation members from Germany, also here to observe the trial, and then we went to the nearby Adliye Sarayi.
A hundred or so people from Turkey were demonstrating in support of Sandra, with a red banner proclaiming
Free Sandra Bakutz. Other delegation members were there from Austria, Denmark, Belgium and Greece. One of them was Ulla Roeder, involved in dismantling a missile in Scotland, I believe, and the subject of court action because of it.
Some of the people from Turkey did a round dance called the halay, and I and some delegation members joined in. Slogans were shouted, such as
We do not want EU democracy, we want justice! Turkish TV cameras were present and I was told my dancing efforts were shown on Turkish NTV.
There was a line of riot cops with clubs and shields in front of the Adliye Sarayi as well as a large number of plainclothes cops nearer to us. They did not bother anyone that I could see, possibly deterred by the foreign delegation.
Some of us, mostly delegation members, were let inside the Adliye Sarayi after passing through a kind of X-ray machine at the door, but after going from floor to floor in the multi-storey building we learned that the court session had been postponed to two in the afternoon. We went back outside, I made a couple of phone calls and then went for a walk in central Ankara, accompanied by one of the Turkish protesters who went with me to make sure I didn’t get lost.
After we got back, some of us (the delegation and some but not all of the protesters from Turkey) were let into the Adliye Sarayi after once more passing through the X-ray machine. We waited outside the court room No.11 for about an hour and then were let in. The room contained us, police and a few Turkish journalists. Like all Turkish courtrooms, it had a copy of Kemal Ataturk’s death mask attached to the wall behind the judges and prosecutor. Then the three judges, the prosecutor and a few court personnel came in. Sandra’s defence lawyers had come into the court with the delegation. Next Sandra was brought in, accompanied by four gendarmes in green uniforms and berets and what appeared to be a woman prison officer. Sandra smiled at people she recognised in the audience.
Then the proceedings started. Sandra had an official court translator, though her Turkish is good. The charge was that she was a member of the
illegal leftist terror organisation DHKP-C, a charge she denied. The prosecutor said she was involved in a November 2000 protest in Brussels blamed on the DHKP-C when the then Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem visited the European Parliament. The prosecution used as evidence an article in the mass circulation Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, though Sandra was not mentioned in the article. The prosecution claimed she was in a photo accompanying the article, but Sandra denied this.
The prosecutor also said she must be DHKP-C because she had been on a committee supporting Ilhan Yelkuvan, a Turkish prisoner held in Germany who went on hunger strike early in 2000 to protest against the solitary confinement he was subjected to. Yelkuvan was accused of being a leading member of DHKP-C and Sandra campaigning for him was for the prosecutor evidence that she too was DHKP-C.
The prosecutor said that Belgian Interpol had described Sandra as a member of DHKP-C but he did not expand on this.
In 2001, the Turkish authorities issued an arrest order against her, but this was not communicated to Sandra, nor was any attempt made to extradite her – they simply executed it when she arrived in the country this February to attend a mass trial in Istanbul.
In a statement Sandra read out, she said that she had long campaigned against the use of prison isolation and this was why she campaigned for Ilhan Yelkuvan. As a journalist, she often came into contact with all kinds of people and it was possible that she met people the Turkish state might
consider to be members of DHKP-C.
One of her lawyers then spoke, saying that protesting against Ismail Cem in Brussels was a democratic right and not a crime, and that even if it was a crime, it happened on Belgian soil and was a matter for the Belgian authorities, who took no action against her. In fact, there was no proof she was even there. Her support of Ilhan Yelkuvan was likewise a matter for the German government, not the Turkish, even if it was a crime to support him, which it was not.
The prosecutor made a request for time to gather more evidence, including the original of the photo in Hurriyet and pictures taken of Sandra in prison. This was presumably to try and prove that she was present at the protest against Ismail Cem. The judge called a recess and the court was cleared.
We came back in. Sandra was brought in again. I waved to her and she smiled at me. The judge said he accepted the prosecutor’s request but in the meantime Sandra was to be released. There was some applause, which angered the court usher who started shouting. Then the session ended.
Later delegation members went to Ankara Central Closed Prison (Ulucanlar) to meet her and give her some flowers. We waited two hours, and then suddenly a police van drove fast out the gate with Sandra inside. She just had time to wave to us before disappearing. We heard from her lawyers that she was taken to the
foreigners’ cell of a police station, prior to being taken to the airport next day to go back to Austria. Sandra herself wanted to remain in Turkey for two or three days now she had been released but the Turkish and Austrian authorities were clearly working together to get her out of the country as fast as possible. Although it was sad that she could not be present at it, a celebration was held at Ankara’s Basic Rights and Freedoms Association. Delegation members were asked to sing a song from our countries. I sang Scots Wha Hae. I decided to leave the SSP letter signed by the MSPs with them, perhaps to use in any future campaign needed on Sandra’s behalf.
The next morning some of us went to the Austrian Embassy to try and get Sandra permission to stay in Turkey as a free person for a few days. The embassy said she wanted to leave Turkey and a place on a flight to Vienna had been booked. We didn’t believe this was what Sandra wanted – it was more a case of what the Austrian Embassy wanted. Her case had become a diplomatic hot potato burning the hands of both the Austrian and the Turkish authorities.
I said goodbye to Turkish friends. The delegation was breaking up as people went for their flights – mine was at 4:10 on the afternoon of the 31st. When I got to the airport I saw a
last call for an Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna and Sandra was on this plane, I learned later. She was brought to the airport by both the Austrian ambassador and Turkish policemen.
I had no problems leaving the country on my own flight, returning to London via Munich.
Sandra has another court appearance in Turkey on June 1, as the charge against her was not quashed. I spoke to her by telephone: she wanted to thank everyone who supported her, and was aware that they included Scots. She said the last night in the police station was
very bad before she was taken to the airport the next day.
She only received post and solidarity messages sent to her in prison when she was released – they had been withheld while she was in prison.
Although no longer in a Turkish prison, Sandra will continue to require international solidarity as long as the charge against her is still outstanding. Solidarity and internationalism are not crimes but clearly the Turkish authorities think they are.
A final observation about Ankara unrelated to the trial: there were Turkish flags hanging everywhere. On Newroz (Kurdish New Year) a couple of Kurdish youths had dragged a Turkish flag along the ground. The Turkish state used this to whip up a centrally directed campaign of chauvinism (something it often does) making it almost compulsory to hang Turkish flags from windows or balconies. People who do not hang out flags risk being considered enemies of the state, especially in Ankara, the capital city and full of civil servants and military personnel.