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Festus Okey case remains stalled in Turkish court

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News | 4/26/2011 12:00:00 AM | ERISA DAUTAJ ŞENERDEM

An ongoing case investigating the alleged murder of Nigerian refugee Festus Okey at an Istanbul police station in 2007 seems to have stalled 44 months after the man’s death.

An ongoing case investigating the alleged murder of Nigerian refugee Festus Okey at an Istanbul police station in 2007 seems to have stalled 44 months after the man’s death, with the court complaining about the numbers of people trying to become parties to the case.

No progress was made in the latest hearing in the case on April 26 because the court has been waiting since Dec. 16, 2008, for confirmation from Nigeria of the identification of the deceased.

“The prosecutor has opened the case for “reckless homicide,” but we believe [Okey] died after being tortured [at the police station],” Burcu Özaydın, a lawyer and member of the Migrants Support Network, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday after attending the hearing.

She also said the police had arrested and taken Okey under custody without following regular legal procedures.

The court decided to postpone the case until July 12, and it has also decided to file a criminal complaint against more than 70 people who filed individual requests to become a party in the case for “insulting the court.”  

Investigations have already been started against more than 40 people who issued similar individual demands during the case’s last two hearings.

“The court can deny the request, but not file a criminal complaint. Asking to be part of the case is a constitutional right,” Özaydın, who is also part of the investigation, told the Daily News, adding that they had also filed a related complaint to the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges, or HSYK, on the panel of judges dealing with Okey’s case.

“Asking to become part of the case is our legal right, and there were no insulting words in the request sent to court,” Ufuk Ahıska, a member of the Migrants Support Network, told the Daily News on Tuesday.

Ahıska said the court had filed complaints only for individual requests, although there had also been requests from several organizations to become part of the case too.

Noting that the number of people against whom the court has filed a complaint had exceeded 100, Ahıska said he believed the court had lost its credibility regarding the Okey case.

The Helsinki Citizens’ Association, the Freedom on Earth Association and the Human Rights Foundation also asked the court Tuesday to become part of the Okey case.

A lawyer for the accused and the prosecutor, however, objected to the requests, arguing that the applying parties “are not harmed by the crime.”

Okey was taken into custody Aug. 20, 2007, in Istanbul’s central Beyoğlu district on charges of drug possession. He allegedly died at the Beyoğlu police station after being hit by a bullet fired from the gun of Cengiz Yıldız while the police officer questioned Okey.

Police say they have no footage of the incident since their cameras were broken at the time of death, and that the gun fired accidentally while Okey was trying to grab it. The shirt Okey was wearing when he was shot, considered a critical piece of evidence in the case, has reportedly gone missing. Though he wore it while being transported to the hospital, the shirt was not among his belongings that were delivered to the police after his death.

The first trial in the case was held Nov. 27, 2007. A group of attorneys from the Contemporary Lawyers Association, or ÇHD, had applied to be a party to the case but were rejected by the court. The first local court in Beyoğlu concluded that the case should be transferred to the local court of serious crimes, where the second trial was held Feb. 14, 2008.

At the second trial, the defendant’s lawyer demanded that the court investigate Okey’s identity, saying he was in the country illegally and might have been a terrorist. As such, the court requested ID confirmation from the Nigerian embassy.

An investigation was also opened May 13, 2008, against employees of the hospital for misplacing Okey’s shirt but the case ended abruptly after the prosecutor decided to proceed no further; because Okey is not represented by lawyers, no one was able to object.

On Dec. 16, 2008, the Turkish Foreign Ministry informed the court that there is no legal-assistance agreement between Nigeria and Turkey, leading the court to ask the African country directly to supply the needed identity information; the court has been waiting for the ID confirmation since that date.

Police officer Yıldız faces life in prison if found guilty in the killing of Okey.

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