Turkish courts released at least 100 alleged members of the militant Turkish Hezbollah (TH) group who in 2011 had received life sentences for murder and terrorism convictions, the T24 news portal reported on Tuesday.
In July 2018, the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled on the case of an alleged TH member, deciding that retrial was required because the original verdict had been issued by an abolished ‘state security court’ which included a military judge in its board, and thus was not impartial.
Based on the verdict of the top court, several TH convicts appealed to the local court, demanding a retrial.
A court in the eastern province of Van ruled for a retrial and released the applicants in February.
Since then the precedent set by the Constitutional Court saw the release over 100 alleged Hezbollah members, T24 reported.
Van court issued the ruling not just only based on the top court’s verdict, but also noting that the sentences had been handed down by the Penal Department No. 9 of the Court of Cassation.
A decree issued during the state of emergency after the failed 2016 coup expelled the chair and members of the same court from their posts over alleged ties to the Gulen Movement, which is outlawed by Ankara on terror accusations.
The decision of the local court could be a landmark ruling which sets a precedent for further releases because the jurisdiction of Penal Department No. 9 involved all of the terror cases.
However, courts overruled further appeals for retrial made by the PKK convicts on the same grounds.
Founded in the early 1990s the Turkish Hezbollah (aka Kurdish Hezbollah) appealed mainly to the Kurds living in eastern Turkey as well as Kurds migrated to the western provinces.
Turkish authorities allege that post-revolutionary Iran funded the group in a bid to establish an Islamic government in Turkey.
However, some investigative journalists working in the region, as well as senior members of the Turkish government, alleged that the elements of the Turkish state and military supported the organization.
TH commenced its armed activities in the early 90s during the same period that saw the rise of PKK.
It started as an opposing force against the Marxist ideology of the Kurdish separatist movement but later targeted regular people with a secular lifestyle.
According to the figures of the Oxford Islamic Studies, TH killed around 500 PKK members, while losing 200 militants between 1992 and 1995.
In February 1992 a weekly magazine named 2000’e Dogru reported on members of TH receiving training in the headquarters of Turkish Special Forces in the Kurdish-majority Diyarbakir city.
The author of the article, Halit Gungen, was killed by unknown assailants two days later.
Unknown assailants shot dead yet another journalist, Namik Taranci, in November 1992 after the Gercek daily he worked for published a story on the relations between the Turkish state and the TH.
The 1993 report of Turkey’s Parliamentary Inquiry Commission cited the allegations of TH receiving political and military training from the security forces.
Fikri Saglar, a former minister, claimed in an interview that the Turkish Army had not only used the Islamist group but also founded and sustained it.
In 2011 during the Ergenekon trials, Arif Dogan, a retired colonel of the Turkish Armed Forces, testified that he founded Hezbollah in an attempt to counter the PKK militants.
Trials and conviction
A police raid in the year 2000 saw the leader of the organization, Huseyin Velioglu killed and others detained. The ensuing crackdown saw thousands of alleged members arrested.
The allegations of brutal tactics used by the organization like the infamous ‘hogtie’ method, which ensured the victim’s slow death the more he or she moved a muscle, circulated widely in the Turkish media.
Turkish authorities also claimed to have seized videotapes of murders conducted by the TH members but would not disclose the records to the public due to their gory nature.