Turkish PM defies outcry over Sivas trial

Turkish PM defies outcry over Sivas trial

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dismissed the public outcry over the inconclusive closure of a case into the deadly 1993 torching of the Madımak Hotel in Sivas, arguing that 33 people had already been sentenced to life in the first stage of the lengthy judicial process.

An Ankara court dropped charges this week against seven suspects who remained on trial, on grounds that two of them had died in the meantime and that the 15-year statute of limitations applied for the other five.

“It is wrong to say the Sivas trial has been dropped due to the statue of limitations when we are only talking about five people. They’re disregarding [those already sentenced] and distorting the issue,” Erdoğan said yesterday.

“During frequent visits to Sivas, I met girls who were weeping because their fathers had been sentenced without being guilty. It’s not right to disregard this and spread unilateral political propaganda,” he said.

Erdoğan had come under criticism for his remarks after the court ruling, which included a phrase in Turkish with celebratory undertones: “Let it be for the best.”

Some 33 intellectuals and two hotel workers died when an Islamist mob torched the Madımak Hotel in Sivas during an Alevi cultural festival on July 2, 1993. The mob was agitated mostly by the presence of popular atheist writer Aziz Nesin, who was then translating Salman Rushdie’s controversial The Satanic Verses. Two arsonists also died.

In the first stage of the 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.