Summary and Current Status
Fatih Hilmioğlu is a Turkish medical doctor who until his arrest was a professor at Başkent University. He was 1 of 40 individuals detained by police on April 17, 2009—the third wave of detentions in an 18-month period in connection with what was, at the time, an ongoing investigation into what prosecutors alleged was an attempt to provoke the overthrow of the current government by military coup. (The case is referred to as “Ergenekon.”) Dr. Hilmioğlu and seven others, including several academics, were arrested; the other 32 were released. Dr. Hilmioğlu was detained without charge until August 5, 2009, when he was one of 52 co-defendants named in the third indictment of the Ergenekon case.
The second Ergenekon trial, in which Dr. Hilmioğlu and 51 others were co-defendants, began on September 7, 2009. Subsequently, the Istanbul 13th High Court merged two indictments—the one that included Dr. Hilmioğlu and another group of 56 defendants arrested earlier. The trial then proceeded with a total of 108 co-defendants. During the ensuing months, dozens more defendants were charged with members in Ergenekon. Eventually, as the trial dragged on, the court fused all of the defendants into one mass trial consisting of 275 defendants. On August 5, 2013, the court finally issued verdicts in the case. The court acquitted 21 of the defendants, and the remainder were sentenced to lengthy sentences, including consecutive life sentences for some. Dr. Hilmioğlu was sentenced to 23 years in prison including the four and a half years already served in detention. Despite his poor health, he was ordered to remain in prison pending the outcome of his appeal, which, like the trial, is expected to be a lengthy legal process.
On February 20, 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled for Dr. Hilmioğlu's release on medical grounds, a day after his lawyers had submitted a report by a team of nine medical experts stating that his required medical treatment would not be possible in the Silivri prison facility. Dr. Hilmioğlu had cirrhosis of the liver for several years.Turkish medical doctors recently testified that he is now suffering from stage three liver cancer. He also suffers from chronic kidney problems, diabetes, esophageal varices, and depression.
Dr. Hilmioğlu is a medical doctor and a professor at Başkent University. He is also former rector of Ĭnönü University in Malatya. He received his medical degree in 1979 from Hacettepe-Univeristy, Ankara. He spent several years in the 1980s working as a doctor of internal medicine in Hoya, Germany and at the University-Clinic Essen in western Germany.
Arrest and detention without charge
On April 17, 2009, Dr. Hilmioğlu was detained and transferred to Istanbul for interrogation later that same day. He was one of a group of 40 individuals detained in 18 Turkish cities during simultaneous police operations. Of this group of detainees, Dr. Hilmioğlu was one of eight individuals, including several other prominent academics, whose arrest was subsequently ordered by the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court. The following weekend, thousands of people demonstrated against the detentions, arrests, and searches in front of the mausoleum of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Dr. Hilmioğlu was held without charge for more than three months. Because the public prosecutor had decided that all information in the case was to be considered confidential even Dr. Hilmioğlu attorneys were prevented from reviewing it. This lack of access made it difficult to prepare an adequate legal defense.
Health Concerns, Conditions of Detention, and Precautionary Release
Because of serious health problems and the decline of his health following his arrest, Dr. Hilmioğlu was held in state custody in the Cerrahpasa Faculty of Medicine Hospital in Istanbul under armed guard, where he received regular medical attention. In late January 2010, however, the state’s Forensic Medicine Institute issued a report claiming that Dr. Hilmioğlu’s health was better than had been claimed by his doctors and that he could be sent to prison on the condition that, every two months, he have tests conducted in the hepatology department of a university hospital.
Although Dr. Hilmioğlu was diagnosed with the onset of liver cancer in late December 2010, he was transferred to Silivri prison in early March 2011, based on the report issued by the Forensic Medicine Institute in January 2010. Silivri prison is approximately 50 kilometers from Istanbul. As noted in the summary section, Dr. Hilmioğlu suffers from cirrhosis of the liver, was diagnosed with the onset of liver cancer in late 2010 but reportedly has not had a biopsy for the past two years, has a chronic kidney problem, has developed diabetes, has esophageal varices, and acute depression. It is troubling that, although his lawyers have sent information about Dr. Hilmioğlu’s cancer to the Forensic Medicine Institute, it has not seen fit to issue an updated report. We also understand that a report was issued by the Bakirkoy Sadi Konuk Research Hospital in January 2013 advising that Dr. Hilmioğlu receive a check up after two months in an advanced center with hepatology, nephrology, and endocrinology departments and that an assessment be done at the Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty, where he is being monitored for severe depression. To the best of our knowledge, Dr. Hilmioğlu did not receive the advised medical care while he was in prison.
On February 20, 2014, the CHR was informed by Turkish engineer Kemal Gürüz and other Turkish scientific colleagues that Fatih Hilmioğlu had been released from Silivri prison on medical grounds. Turkey’s high court, the Constitutional Court, ruled for his release on February 20, the day after it received, from his lawyers, a report by a team of nine medical experts stating that the medical treatment Dr. Hilmioğlu requires would not be possible in the Silivri prison facility. According to press statements by Dr. Hilmioğlu’s lawyer, Celal Ülgen, the Constitutional Court’s ruling was taken as a precaution and was the first of its kind. The court will send a letter to the High Criminal Court, which will rule within 15 days. He further stated that the precautionary ruling will be valid until the appeals process is completed. Dr. Hilmioğlu’s lawyers reportedly have also filed an application to the Constitutional Court stating that their client’s imprisonment is a breach of his right to life. This application is still being examined by the court. If the court rules in favor of Dr. Hilmioğlu, then his precautionary release would become final.
Dr. Hilmioğlu and the “Ergenekon” Case
As noted in the Summary section, Dr. Hilmioğlu was one of the co-defendants named in the third indictment of the “Ergenekon” case, which was accepted by the Istanbul 13th High Court on August 5, 2009. According to the prosecution, he and other suspects were identified in the course of the Turkish government’s “Ergenekon” investigation, which began in June 2007 when 27 hand grenades and explosives were discovered in the Istanbul home of a retired noncommissioned Turkish military officer. According to Human Rights Watch, “[E]vidence suggests that the grenades were similar to those used in attacks on the Istanbul offices of the daily newspaper, Cumhuriyet, in May 2006 and the armed attack on judges at the Council of State in April 2006. The investigation that followed uncovered evidence pointing to a much larger conspiracy, including evidence of plans to assassinate the prime minister, the former chief of staff, several members of Parliament from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, the writer Orhan Pamuk, and others.”
Ergenekon—which, in a legend about the genesis of the Turkish people, refers to the Turks’ mythical homeland—is the name given to an alleged illegal ultranationalist group consisting of former military and police officers, politicians, journalists, and some intellectuals. Over the past four years several hundred people were detained in connection with the investigation. More than 175 of those were arrested and accused of plotting to destabilize the country and paving the way for a military coup. Since the first cache of weapons was discovered in 2007, additional weapons were found, including, in early 2009, missile launchers, plastic explosives, and ammunition. Given that a significant number of those arrested in the Ergenekon case in 2009 are opposition figures from intellectual circles and secularist civil society groups, like Dr. Hilmioğlu, there is considerable concern that the case became politicized, targeting critics and opponents of the ruling Islamist party’s policies.
On October 20, 2008, in a 2,455-page indictment, 86 people—including senior retired military officers, alleged members of organized crime, leading figures from the media, academics, lawyers, and activists from civil society organizations—were brought to trial allegedly for crimes they committed as members of Ergenekon. After the first trial began, two more groups of people, also alleged to be members of Ergenekon, were indicted. The second indictment in March 2009 named 56 people, and the third indictment in August 2009—which included Dr. Hilmioğlu—named 52 people. On August 6, 2009, judges in the Istanbul 13th High Court decided to combine the second and third indictments and hold a mass trial of all 108 co-defendants. That second trial began on September 7, 2009. A courtroom with a capacity of 740 people was built in Silivri prison, where many of the defendants are held, specifically for this trial.
According to news reports, all of the individuals who were indicted in this case were accused of carrying out at least one activity listed in the indictment in order to overthrow the democratically elected government of Turkey. Alleged activities reportedly included setting up and leading a terrorist organization; attempting to destroy the government and parliament or hindering them from carrying our their duties; recording personal data and leaking footage of compromising, illegal recordings; acquiring, destroying, falsifying, and stealing secret documents on Turkish intelligence; and carrying explosives and firing weapons to threaten lives. Dr. Hilmioğlu was accused of “belonging to an illegal armed terrorist organization, illegally recording personal data and attempting to overthrow the government and the National Assembly; or attempting to prevent those organizations from performing their duties.”
As noted in the summary section, dozens more defendants were charged over the years with membership in Ergenekon. Eventually, as the trial dragged on, the court fused all of the defendants into one mass trial consisting of 275 defendants. On August 5, 2013, the court finally issued verdicts in the case. The court acquitted 21 of the defendants, and the remainder were sentenced to lengthy sentences, including consecutive life sentences for some. Dr. Hilmioğlu was sentenced to 23 years in prison, including the four and a half years already spent in detention. He was ordered to remain in prison pending the outcome of his appeal, where he stayed until his precautionary release on February 20, 2014.
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Updated on February 21, 2013