Release Verdict for Academic for Peace Tuna Altınel

Yazar / Referans: 

The court has ruled for the release of Assoc. Prof. Altınel without judicial control measures. He is charged with "membership of a terrorist organization" because of interpreting speeches in a conference.

Assoc. Prof. Tuna Altınel from the Lyon 1 University was arrested on May 11 because of simultaneously interpreting the speeches in a conference held in France in February on the "Cizre basements," where 189 people died in a military operation in 2015. He is also on trial for having signed the peace declaration against the 2015-2016 operations in the country's southeast.

On the 81st day of his arrest, he appeared before the judge in his first hearing today (July 30) at the Balıkesir 2nd Heavy Penal Court.

Many people, including politicians, journalists and academics, came to Balıkesir Courthouse to support Altınel.

In his statement of defense, Altınel said that his membership of the ALKRA (Lyone and Rhone-Alpes Kurdish Friendship Association) cannot prove his membership to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as it is a legal association in France.

The bill of indictment alleged that the ALKRA "operates together with the armed terrorist organization PKK," charging Altınel with "membership of a terrorist organization."

The prosecutor requested that Altınel shall be released upon judicial control considering the time he spent under arrest and that the case file should be sent to the Supreme Court of Appeals 5th Chamber.

The court ruled that Altınel shall be released without judicial control, also exempting him from the forthcoming hearings.

Altınel's defense

In his statement of defense, Altınel briefly said the following:

"Today, friends of democracy from various places in the world are here.

"I am present in front of you because I attended an event held by the ALKRA, or the Lyone and Rhone-Alpes Kurdish Friendship Association on February 21, 2019. I am charged with membership of a terrorist organization. The text called the bill of indictment leans on two concrete facts to reach this conclusion: One, my membership to the mentioned association, and two, the mentioned event.

"In the last paragraph where the type of my crime is tried to be proved as membership of a terrorist organization, it is evaluated that the association is 'operating together with the armed terrorist organization PKK/KCK [Kurdistan Workers' Party/Kurdistan Communities Union].

"The ALKRA is a legal association that was founded in line with the laws of France. It was founded in 2013 by Thierry Lamberthod, a citizen of France and the current chairperson and his friends. All its board members are French.

"The aim of the association which does not have a certain political line is to promote Kurdish culture, to establish platforms that will ensure the recognition of the rights of the Kurdish people, and contributing to the economic, social and cultural projects aimed for peace.

"The long and the short of it, it is not possible for such an association to be an extension of a terrorist organization.

"Anyway, neither in the intelligence notice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor in the bill of indictment there is concrete information or evidence regarding the connection between the association that I am a member of and the PKK/KCK.

"Let's get to the mentioned event. The event was held by the association which I am a member of. I, as a member of the association, contributed it. The purpose was to make a discussion and a study of memory based on witness accounts. Propagandizing for any legal or illegal organization was not in question.

"Faysal Sarıyıldız was chosen and invited because he was an MP from Şırnak in the period where the mentioned incidents occurred and a first-hand witness of the incidents. When he came to Lyon, it was clearly told him that the event was not for political propaganda.

"He made a speech, shared visuals and answered questions. Contrary to the allegation on the ninth page of the indictment, he neither presented nor moderated the event. Drawing such a conclusion from a photograph can only be seen in an indictment that is hastily written in two days."

The story of Altınel and his trial

Arrested and imprisoned in Turkey, Assoc. Prof. Tuna Altınel is an academic who has made significant contributions to academia in universities abroad, primarily in France since 1996.

Altınel graduated from the Departments of Mathematics and Computer Science of Boğaziçi University in İstanbul. He completed his PhD studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, with Cherlin as his doctoral advisor.

With Alexandre Borovik and Gregory Cherlin, he proved an important example of Cherlin-Zilber conjecture. Having published 26 articles in his field so far, Altınel is specialized in group theory and mathematical logic.

Judicial process in Turkey

The process culminating in the arrest of Assoc. Prof. Altınel in Turkey started in February 2019 in France. Attending a conference on "Cizre basements" in the city of Villeurbanne, he did simultaneous interpreting for former Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) MP Faysal Sarıyıldız.

In the wake of this conference, the Lyon Consulate General of Turkey took down a statement about the academic. In the statement sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey afterward, the Consulate General requested that "a restriction be imposed on the passport o the academic and the necessary legal action be taken against him."

Restriction imposed on his passport

Assoc. Prof. Altınel, who is also an academic signatory to the peace declaration entitled "We will not be a party to this crime", came to Turkey in April 2019 to attend his hearing in the trial of Academics for Peace. He learned at the airport that a restriction had been imposed on his passport.

As his inquiries about the issue remained inconclusive in İstanbul, on May 10, he went to Balıkesir, where he is officially registered.

Offense charged has changed

Altınel went to the Balıkesir Civil Registry to inquire about the restriction imposed on his passport. After he left the registry, he received a call from there and was taken into custody when he returned to the registry.

After deposing to the Prosecutor's Office, Altınel was referred to court to be arrested on the charge of "propagandizing for a terrorist organization." He was arrested by the judgeship on duty on May 11 and sent to Kepsut Prison.

During his judicial process, the offense charged against him has turned from "terror propaganda" to "membership of a terrorist organization."

Calls for the release of Tuna Altınel

Since his arrest on May 11, both the government of France and his friends from the Lyon 1 University have taken several actions to demand his release:

* Forming the Committee of Support for Tuna Altınel, academics from Lyon 1 University organized demonstrations in France. They also launched a petition for his release from prison.

* On the same day, the Council of National Higher Education and Research of France (CNESER) also unanimously approved a proposal regarding the issue. Accordingly, the Council has requested that the Ministers of the European Union, Higher Education and Foreign Affairs in France do what is necessary to ensure that Turkey respects the academics' freedom of expression.

* Making a speech regarding the issue on May 16, Minister of Higher Education of France Frédérique Vidal indicated that she was deeply concerned about his colleague and underlined that Altınel should return to France as soon as possible and get back to his job.

* The European Mathematical Society also made a statement regarding the arrest of Tuna Altınel on May 14 and emphasized that the arrest of the academic was a violation of human rights. The Society also demanded that Altınel be immediately released and be permitted to leave Turkey for France so that he could continue with his research and academic activities.

* The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France also released a statement on Assoc. Prof. Tuna Altınel on May 14 and stated that they were "concerned" about the arrest of the academic in Turkey. In its statement, the Ministry made a call to Turkey "to respect the commitments it made for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

* The University Presidents' Union of France (CPU) also met officials from the Embassy of Turkey and requested the release of Altınel.

* Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian also spoke about the issue before visiting Turkey. The Minister said that "they were highly concerned" about the situation of Altınel and would raise the issue in the meetings.

Calls from Turkey

* Students and graduates from Galatasaray High School in İstanbul launched a petition to defend his right to express his opinions.

* The Association for Science, Art, Education, Research and Solidarity (BirAraDa) prepared and sent a postcard to Altınel.

* Academics for Peace gathered in front of İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan for several times and expressed their request for Altınel's release.

* The ÜNİVDER Association released a written statement and requested Assoc. Prof. Tuna Altınel to be released.