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Case Information: Mustafa Abbas Yurtkuran
Yurtkuran
DATE OF BIRTH:September 8, 1948
COUNTRY:Turkey
PROFESSION:Medical doctor
DATE OF ARREST:April 17, 2009
STATUS:Released for medical reasons; free pending appeal
 
Summary and Current Status
 
Mustafa Abbas Yurtkuran is a medical doctor and former rector of Uluda? University in Bursa.  He was one of several individuals detained by the Turkish police on April 17, 2009—the third wave of detentions/arrests in an 18-month period in connection with an ongoing investigation into what prosecutors allege was an attempt to provoke the overthrow of the current government by military coup.  (The case is referred to as “Ergenekon.”)  Dr. Yurtkuran was held in prison until June 25, 2009, when he was released, pending trial, for health reasons. He suffers from coronary heart disease and had bypass operation on four coronary arteries a few years ago.
 
Dr. Yurtkuran was subsequently charged with belonging to an illegal armed terrorist organization (Ergenekon), and attempting to overthrow the government and the National Assembly or attempting to prevent those organizations from performing their duties. The second Ergenekon trial, in which Dr. Yurtkuran 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. Yurtkuran 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 membership in Ergenekon. Eventually, as the trial dragged on, the court fused all of the cases 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. Yurtkuran was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He remains free pending the outcome of his appeal.
 
Dr. Yurtkuran is well-respected by the Turkish medical community and is not known to have ever advocated or practiced violence.  To the best of our knowledge no credible evidence was ever presented to support the serious charges brought against him. He is appealing his conviction and prison sentence. Because of the large number of defendants in the appeals case, it is expected that the case will take many months to be decided.
 
Background
 
Dr. Yurtkuran is a distinguished medical doctor who has published 80 articles, 2 books, and numerous conference papers. He currently serves on the board of trustees of I??k University in Istanbul. Dr. Yurtkuran was rector of Uluda? University for the maximum allowable two terms (2000-2008).
 
The “Ergenekon” Case
 
As noted in the Summary section, Dr. Yurtkuran 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 illegal alleged ultranationalist group consisting of former military and police officers, politicians, journalists, and some intellectuals. Over the past few 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 pave 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 were opposition figures from intellectual circles and secularist civil society groups, like Dr. Yurtkuran, there was great concern that the investigation had become 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.  Subsequently, 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. Yurtkuran—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.  The 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 were held, specifically for this trial.
 
According to news reports, all of the individuals indicted in this case were accused of carrying out at least one activity listed in the indictment with the intention of bringing about the overthrow of 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 out their duties; recording personal data and leaking footage of compromising recordings; acquiring, destroying, falsifying, and stealing secret documents on Turkish intelligence; and carrying explosives and firing weapons to threaten lives.  Dr. Yurtkuran  reportedly faced charges of belonging to an illegal armed terrorist organization (Ergenekon), and attempting to overthrow the government and the National Assembly or attempting to prevent those organizations from performing their duties.
 
Suggested Action
 
For suggestions of possible actions on this case, please contact the CHR at chr@nas.edu or 202-334-3043.