Turkish court jails officer for seven years for murdering Gezi protester

Turkish court jails officer for seven years for murdering Gezi protester

Turkish court jails officer for seven years for murdering Gezi protester

A mask depicting the face of Ethem Sarısülük, 26, killed in Ankara in June 2013 during a police crackdown, hangs on a police barrier on Sept. 3, s people demonstrate outside the courthouse in Ankara. AFP Photo / Adem Altan

A police officer who shot dead Gezi protester Ethem Sarısülük during last year’s mass protests in Ankara has been sentenced to seven years and nine months in prison Sept. 3.

In its verdict, the court found officer Ahmet Şahbaz guilty on charges of first- degree murder, rejecting the defense’s claim that the policeman fired his gun in legitimate defense. But the judgment triggered strong reactions by Sarısülük’s family, who slammed the court for being too lenient. The victim's brother, Mustafa Sarısülük, said the family would appeal the verdict.

The prosecutor had demanded between 26 and 33 years in prison for Şahbaz during the last hearing in July, which also saw Şahbaz being detained ahead of the verdict hearing, a demand that had been repeatedly made by lawyers representing Sarısülük’s family since the beginning of the investigation.

The case came into the spotlight particularly after the court initially ruled not to order a pre-trial detention for Şahbaz, prompting renewed allegations that the judiciary was trying to protect the policeman, a common phenomenon in Turkey where law enforcement officers often act with impunity in causing harm to citizens.

Şahbaz, however, claimed he was forced to defend himself in targeting Sarısülük because protesters were throwing stones. Şahbaz said during the hearing that he recited a prayer when he first heard that Sarısülük had died, reiterating that he only intended to fire warning shots in the air.

Ruling 'rewards killers'

Murat Yılmaz, the lawyer of the Sarısülük family, said the ruling had in fact "rewarded the killers." "Ethem Sarısülük has been killed one more time today. His family was kicked. We witnessed unlawful practices in the Anakara courthouse before, but we didn't expect this much," he said.

Meanwhile, the victim's mother, Sayfi Sarısülük, slammed President Erdoğan. "The one who has broken us is Tayyip [Erdoğan]. My son would never have been broken down, but the killer has broken me down once again," she said.

"The murderer will be among us five years later," Sarısülük's brother Mustafa told the AFP, anticipating an early release for Sahbaz.

"The justice system bolstered the murder. This proves it is legitimate to kill people on the street," he added.

A group of protesters gathered in front of the courthouse before the hearing, shouting "We are all Ethem!" and "Mothers' anger will drown the murderers."

Sarısülük, 26, was shot point-blank during protests in Ankara on June 1, 2013, a day after mass protests erupted over the police’s brutal crackdown in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. He died after being hospitalized for more than two weeks, becoming the third protester to be killed at the hands of police during the protests.

Two other court cases into the deaths of Gezi protesters, Ali İsmail Korkmaz and Abdullah Cömert, are currently continuing.