Sivas trial delayed after surprise DNA test twist

Sivas trial delayed after surprise DNA test twist

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Sivas trial delayed after surprise DNA test twist

The families of victims who burned to death in the Madımak fire make a press statement in front of the courthouse. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

The trial of seven fugitive suspects for the deadly 1993 torching of a Sivas hotel was adjourned yesterday as it emerged the authorities had taken the unusual step of DNA testing the wife and son of one of the defendants to certify his reported death.

As the high-profile case faces the prospect of being closed inconclusively under the statute of limitations, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a draft law to Parliament to abolish judicial deadlines for the prosecution of some serious offenses that would include the torching of the Madımak Hotel in which 35 intellectuals perished.

The judge scheduled the next hearing for March 13, 2012 to give the prosecution time to decide whether to request new DNA tests to certify the main suspect, Cafer Erçakmak, was indeed the person who passed away while in hiding earlier this year, using samples from his mother or siblings.

Speaking on behalf of families of victims who burned to death in the Madımak fire set by an Islamist mob during an Alevi culture festival, attorney Şanal Sarıhan said the court must consider the torching a crime against humanity and exempt the case from the statute of limitations.

The case has often sparked controversy amid allegations that the authorities provide covert protection to the fugitive suspects and are deliberately protracting the case. One of the defendants was already confirmed dead in 2006.

CHP Deputy Group Chairwoman Emine Ülker Tarhan said her party’s draft amendments would open the door for enlightening a series of unresolved political murders as well as “murders such as Hrant Dink’s which do not appear to be unresolved, but the real perpetrators remain obscure.”

The proposal exempts offenses such as premeditated murder, torture and the sexual abuse of minors from the statute of limitations, CHP Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu said while urging the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to back the move.

“This will be an opportunity to test the AKP and see who is really protecting the perpetrators and who is preventing their prosecution,” he said.

In the first stage of the Sivas case, 33 suspects were sentenced to death in 2000 for what the court deemed was an attempt on the secular constitutional order. Their sentences were commuted to life in prison as Turkey abolished capital punishment. Fourteen others were given jail terms of up to 15 years. Twelve of the convicts remain on the run.

Most recently, the government faced accusations of deliberately dragging its feet in sending an extradition request for Vahit Kaynar. Kaynar was a fugitive convicted for life and was arrested in Poland in September only to be released.