Turkish exile faces fifth trial over deadly 1998 blast

A dissident Turkish sociologist living in self-imposed exile in France goes on trial in absentia Friday for a deadly explosion in Istanbul in 1998, a charge she has been cleared four times.

Pinar Selek, 51, is known for her pioneering research on the Kurdish conflict in Turkey and her work with street children.

Selek is a feminist and prolific author who was first arrested in 1998 while studying Turkey’s Kurdish community, which has suffered years of persecution.

She was accused of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which was listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies.

Selek was interviewing PKK members to find out why they chose armed violence. She was jailed after refusing to reveal their names to the police.

She was eventually charged in connection with an explosion at a popular Istanbul spice market that killed seven and injured dozens.

Selek was fired in 2000 after the publication of a report that blamed the explosion on a gas leak.

But her legal problems were just beginning, with another series of trials in the highly controversial case.

She fled Turkey in 2008, settling in Germany before relocating to France, where she gained citizenship in 2017.

Selek is due to continue hearing on Friday at Istanbul’s main courthouse from the Paris Human Rights League, which she called “a historic center for those fighting for justice”.

The League was created in 1898 to defend captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew wrongly convicted of treason.

– ‘Judicial harassment’-

Although its court battles began before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power two decades ago, Turkey today is under fire from human rights campaigners for activists and jailed political enemies.

“You never get used to injustice,” she told AFP earlier this month.

Selek was acquitted four times by Turkish courts — in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2014 — based on a lack of evidence that the Istanbul market explosion was a bomb attack.

But each time, the supreme court annulled his acquittal and ordered a retrial.

Turkey issued an international arrest warrant for Selek in January.

She faces life in prison without parole, a sentence that could keep her from ever returning to Turkey.

The organization PEN International, which promotes freedom of expression, said Selek’s prosecution was linked to her work as a sociologist focusing on minority rights.

He called on Turkish officials to “end their decades-long harassment of Selek and drop all charges against him unconditionally”.

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