The trial of suspects in the murder of three staff members of a Bible publishing firm in eastern Turkey in 2007 had its 105th hearing yesterday. The controversial trial remains mired in accusations that the "parallel structure," a name attributed to the shady Gülen Movement, exploited the case to imprison its critics
It has been eight years since five suspects walked into the third floor of a building where the Zirve publishing company had offices on April 18. Minutes before the arrival of police, who were acting on a tip-off, suspects repeatedly stabbed three men inside before slitting their throats. The victims were German national Tillman Geske, and Turkish converts to Christianity Necati Aydın and Uğur Yüksel. Apparently, the motive for the murders was the "missionary activities" of the trio working at the Bible publishing house. The suspects, five men in their 20s, were quickly apprehended. It was initially an open-and-shut case as the authorities had assumed, since the suspects were caught red-handed. But an investigation into the background of the murders netted more and more suspects accused of masterminding the murder plot.
Among them were military officers, a top general and an academic. They were accused of plotting the murders as part of a plan to incite tension in the country. The plan was allegedly the work of Ergenekon, a covert organization of generals, academics, journalists, businesspeople and people from all walks of life that sought to pave the way for the ousting of the government by inciting chaos in the country. Hurşit Tolon, a retired general, and Mehmet Ülger, a retired colonel who once acted as top military officer in Malatya, were among those detained.
As the trial entered its seventh year in 2014, a series of developments changed its course. It was the year that the Gülen Movement, led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, was revealed to be behind infiltrations into the police and judiciary. The movement was accused of orchestrating illegal wiretappings, blackmail and the forgery of evidence to imprison its critics. Defendants in the Zirve trial have long accused the "parallel structure," a name given to the movement, of setting them up through forged evidence and testimonies from false witnesses. Today, only one defendant remains imprisoned in connection with the triple homicide, while the others were released pending trial. A legal amendment banning lengthy pre-trial detentions without tangible evidence had paved the way for the release of the defendants who had been imprisoned for over four years. The defendants are counting on being acquitted as the indictment in the case that led to their arrest relies heavily on the testimony of a secret witness. The witness in question's identity was later revealed as İlker Çınar, a former specialist sergeant. Çınar, who was expelled from the army in the 1990s, had claimed the murders were the work of a covert military unit although the existence of the unit is yet to be proven. The defendants underlined that Çınar's statements had numerous inconsistencies and lacked supporting evidence.
Secret witnesses, whose identities were withheld and given code names, were often key to extending the detention of suspects in other trials reportedly concocted by the "parallel structure," namely the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases involving top generals accused of attempting to stage a coup. Turkish media recently reported those witnesses will face investigation for perjury and defamation. Several prosecutors, including Zekeriya Öz, who once handled the Zirve case, are accused of forming indictments solely on the testimony of those witnesses.
Mehmet Ülger said in a previous hearing that various voice recordings were forged in order to implicate them in the plot to murder three men and blamed police officers investigating the case for fabricating evidence. Ülger was serving as head of the gendarmerie command in Malatya at the time of the murders. Ülger said that they were accused because the "cemaat (a name attributed to the Gülen Movement which originally started as a cemaat or religious congregation) wanted them in prison." Haydar Yeşil, another military officer indicted in the trial said, "This case is unprecedented because the murder suspects were caught red-handed, yet this trial has been continuing since 2007."
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