Five get life sentences for murder of Christian publishers
A Turkish court has ruled for three aggravated life sentences for each of the five suspects in the Zirve Publishing House murder case, some nine years after the crimes were committed. The court in the eastern province of Malatya ruled for three aggravated life sentences each for Emre Günaydın, Cuma Özdemir, Hamit Çeker, Salih Gürler and Abuzer Yıldırım.
The 115th hearing of the case was held in the Malatya First Heavy Penal Court early on Sept. 28 with three of the suspects and their lawyers appearing at the courthouse. Günaydın, Yıldırım and Gürler, who had earlier been released with electronic tracking bracelets as a part of a judicial control decision, were brought to the courthouse under police surveillance, as Çeker and Özdemir participated in the hearing via video conferences from courthouses in the Elbistan district of southern Kahramanmaraş province and the Darende district of Malatya, respectively.
Another suspect, Varol Bülent Aral, participated in the hearing from a prison in the southern province of Adana through video conference while other suspects being tried without arrest, including former Malatya Gendarmerie Commander Ret. Col. Mehmet Ülger, also joined the hearing.
Police took strict security measures around the courthouse while the suspects presented their final defenses in the case, which was followed closely by many lawyers.
The court ruled for three aggravated life sentences for each of the five suspects on charges of “premeditated murder.”
Two other suspects were sentenced to six years in prison each, while 14 of the suspects were acquitted.
Three missionaries, a German, Tillman Geske, and two Turks, Necati Aydın and Uğur Yüksel, were tied up and tortured before their throats were slit at the Zirve Publishing House, a Christian publisher in Malatya, on April 18, 2007.
The three victims were members of the city’s tiny Protestant community.
The murders at the time fuelled fear among Turkey’s small Christian minorities and raised concern over rising nationalism and hostility toward non-Muslims in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country.
The case was a controversial one, due to the release of the suspects in 2014 on the condition of wearing electronic bracelets. The men walked free from their high-security prison in Malatya on March 7, 2014.
Geske’s widow at the time said the release of the murder suspects caused a sense of injustice. “Of course this is injustice, because they have released murderers. This system, of course, [should] not work like this,” she said.