Turkey’s top appeals court threw out the conviction of an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant who was wanted by Spain, citing a lack of documentation during his trial at the court of first instance.
The suspect, whose name was withheld by the court, was convicted in a high criminal court and sentenced to prison on February 7, 2020. Spain wanted the person on terrorism charges and informed Turkey of his role as deputy to an ISIS emir. Turkish police also submitted documentation that amounted to criminal evidence against the suspect.
The conviction was upheld by a regional appeals court. However, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargıtay) on October 5, 2021 overturned the conviction and asked Turkish authorities to seek more information from Spain under the 1959 European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.
The 1959 convention entered into force in 1963 and has thus far been ratified by 50 states including three non-European nations. The agreement was upgraded in 1978 with the Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and later with the Second Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters in 2001.
The appeals court ruling was rendered by the 3rd Chamber, which oversees the terrorism convictions and is staffed by judges loyal to the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The chamber is led by Judge Muhsin Şentürk, who is known to be close to the government and supportive of convictions when it comes to reviewing cases of critics, opponents and dissidents who were convicted on false charges of terrorism in Turkey.
Supreme Court of Appeals ruling that threw out the conviction of the ISIS suspect:Yargitay_spain_ISIS_conviction
This ISIS case represents yet another example of how the bulk of successful ISIS convictions, already rare in the lower courts, have been thrown out by senior judges who appear to follow the lenient guidelines of the Erdoğan government when it comes to cracking down on jihadist groups.
The political pressure on judges and prosecutors who were asked to go easy on jihadists began in 2014, when the Erdoğan government started removing judges, prosecutors and police chiefs who were investigating radical groups in Turkey. The dismissed officials were accused of links to the Gülen movement, led by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has been an outspoken critic of the Erdoğan regime due to pervasive corruption and Turkey’s aiding and abetting of jihadist groups in Syria and Libya.
More than 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation, 4,560 of whom were judges and prosecutors and were replaced by pro-Erdoğan, Islamist and neo-nationalist staff. As a result of the massive purge, the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities have become tools in the hands of the Islamist government of President Erdoğan and his allies.
Thousands of militants, both Turkish and foreign, have used Turkish territory to cross into Syria with the help of smugglers in order to fight alongside ISIS groups there. Turkish intelligence agency MIT (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı) has facilitated their travel, with Kilis, a border province in Turkey’s Southeast, one of the main crossing points into ISIS-held territory. Human smugglers were known to have been active in the border area, although Turkish authorities often overlooked their trips in and out of Syria.
There have been some cases, however, in which ISIS suspects were detained and indicted on terrorism charges. But very few resulted in convictions in the lower courts. The decision of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals to overturn rare cases of conviction of suspects on ISIS terror charges sets an important precedent in Turkey’s criminal justice system. The ruling will effectively render to zero the chances of convicting an ISIS member on terrorism charges in the lower courts.
Turkish officials do not disclose the number of successful convictions in ISIS cases and decline to respond to parliamentary questions asking for such information. Instead, they often float figures on the number of detentions and arrests, which in many cases result in release and acquittal.
Erdoğan announced on October 10, 2019 that there were around 5,500 ISIS terrorists in Turkish prisons, of which half were foreign nationals. Yet, on October 25, 2019 Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül stated at a press conference that there were 1,163 ISIS arrestees and convicts in prison.
Responding to a parliamentary question on July 21, 2020, Gül said 1,195 ISIS members were in prisons either as convicts or suspects in pretrial detention. Of these, 791 were foreign nationals, he added. He declined to say how many had actually been convicted.