Press release

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Action Alert: Mehmet Bal arrested & tortured

Turkish conscientious objector Mehmet Bal was arrested on 8 June 2008.  He was held in custody in Beşiktaş Military Prison where he was beaten by duty officers, and denied water and toilet facilities.


The next day, he was sent to the Hasdal Military Prison, where his hair was forcibly cut; the officers in charge incited other prisoners to "do what is necessary"; prisoners beat him with sticks that were almost half a metre long and thick as a human wrist.  When he passed out from the beatings, he was dragged into cold showers so that he could regain consciousness and be beaten again. 

After the attacks, Mr Bal was taken to Gümüssuyu Military Hospital.  Although he could not move his neck, legs and arms from the beatings, he was not admitted to hospital, but taken back to prison on a stretcher.  He is now in Adana Military Prison, hundreds of kilometres from his home in Istanbul.  His “crime” – refusing to kill.

Turkey has a long history of persecution and torture of political prisoners in particular, including conscientious objectors.  Even after release, COs remain “deserters” and their persecution may never end.  The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognized.[1]


Osman Murat Ülke was imprisoned seven times for a total of more than two years between between 1996 and 1999. 


Halil Savda, a Kurdish CO, has been in jail since 27 March 2008, sentenced to 11½ months for refusal.  Additionally, he has been sentenced to six months under Article 318 of the civilian penal code [2] for publicly supporting two Israelis who refused to serve in the war against Lebanon in 2006.


Mehmet Tarhan, a Kurdish gay CO, was imprisoned for 11 months in 2005-6, during which time he was tortured, including by an attempted lynching. 


In January 2006, in Mr Ülke’s case, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Turkey for the repeated arrests of COs and for making COs lead semi-clandestine lives, amounting to “civil death”; and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe time after time condemned Turkey for its human rights record. 


Due to international pressure, Mr Ülke and Mr Tarhan now are out of prison, but could be rearrested at any moment.  Turkey promised to legalize conscientious objection but has done less than nothing.

Michael Kalmanovitz from Payday which has campaigned with Mr Ülke, Mr Tarhan and Mr Savda said:


“COs in Turkey are the tip of a huge anti-militarist iceberg, with perhaps half a million men refusing the draft.  The Turkish military, backed by the US, does not hesitate to use torture to try to break their resistance; it needs men to serve in its decades-long war against Kurdish people, a war which is now spilling over into Iraq.   We in the international anti-war movement must support Mehmet Bal and other COs.  Soldiers’ refusal is vital to ending war. ”


Payday is asking people urgently to write to the Turkish authorities and Members of the European Parliament (see model letter ) to demand:


o       Mr Bal’s torture and ill-treatment, including attacks or intimidation by staff and other prisoners, must end now;

o       He must be given an independent medical examination and appropriate treatment promptly;

o       There must be an immediate investigation, prosecution and punishment of prison staff and prisoners who organised and perpetrated the attacks;

o       His immediate and unconditional release.

Furthermore, we demand that the EU make a precondition of any talks about Turkey’s entry into the Union the immediate end of the persecution of conscientious objectors and the recognition of the right to refuse to kill. 

All of us must have the right to refuse to kill, to live in a world free of war and dictatorship, a world which invests in caring, not killing.   

Refusing to kill is not a crime and this protection of human life must be supported, not punished.



[1] Turkey does not recognise the right to conscientious objection, in violation of article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of which it is a signatory. 


[2] “Persons who give incentives or make suggestions or spread propaganda which will have the effect of discouraging people from performing military service shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six months to two years.  If the act is committed through the medium of the press and media, the penalty shall be increased by half.”