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Appeals court upholds aggravated life sentences in Zirve murder case

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Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld the consecutive aggravated life sentences of five defendants who were involved in the murder of three Christians at a publishing house in Malatya province in 2007.

Three missionaries — German national Tillman Geske and two Turks, Necati Aydın and Uğur Yüksel — were tied up and tortured before their throats were slashed at the Zirve Publishing House, a Christian publisher in Malatya, on April 18, 2007.

In September 2016, a Malatya court handed down three consecutive aggravated life sentences to Emre Günaydın, Cuma Özdemir, Hamit Çeker, Salih Gürler and Abuzer Yıldırım in the years-long trial.

After seven years in a high-security prison, the five now-convicted suspects were released to house arrest in March 2014, when they were fitted with electronic tracking devices. The release of the suspects was made possible under a law passed by the Turkish Parliament in February 2014 according to which the limit of time spent in detention for suspects on trial who have not yet been convicted was lowered to five years.

The five young men, aged 19 and 20 at the time of the crime, confessed to the murders and were arrested. However, authorities have continued to investigate the case, which is believed by many to be an act of the “deep state” rather than a group of independent fanatics.

The murders at the time fuelled fear among Turkey’s small Christian minorities and raised concern over rising nationalism and hostility toward non-Muslims in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country seeking EU membership.

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