Release of man convicted of murder in Belgium and extradited to Turkey is legal: prosecutor

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A prosecutor’s office in Turkey has announced that the release of a man who was sentenced to life in prison in Belgium for the murder of four women and seriously injuring two others in 2004, six years after his extradition to Turkey, is in compliance with both domestic and international law, Turkish media reported.

BBC Turkish service reported on Tuesday on the case of Osman Çallı, who shot to death his 25-year-old wife Teslime and 19-year-old sister –- who was pregnant at the time -– in Ghent, and his ex-wife and mother-in-law -– who are Belgian –- in Aalst, in addition to seriously injuring two men, one of whom was reportedly targeted for having an affair with his wife.

According to the report Çallı was given a life sentence following a four-year trial. After spending five years behind bars, he applied to be extradited to Turkey to serve the remainder of his sentence there. He was sent back on June 28, 2013. Çallı was released on parole on Nov. 10, 2019 and was freed in 2020, BBC said, citing his lawyer Ergun Top, who explained that an inmate can be released in Turkey after serving two-fifths of their sentence.

The news about Çallı’s release led to outrage among woman rights activists and social media users in Turkey who linked the situation to Turkey’s poor record on women’s rights and efforts to prevent domestic violence.

However, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement on Wednesday that Çallı’s release from prison was in compliance with domestic and international law.

The statement said a trial to adapt the Belgian sentence to Turkish law was held at the Ankara 5th High Criminal Court after Çallı’s extradition to Turkey and that he was given four consecutive life sentences for the murder of the four women and sentences of varying lengths for other offenses in November 2012.

Legally, however, he could be given only one life sentence because the length of a prison sentence in the receiving country cannot be longer than the sentence handed down to the defendant in their first trial, in Çallı’s case a life sentence ordered by the Oost-Vlaanderen court in Belgium.

The prosecutor’s office said if Çallı had continued to serve his sentence in Belgium, he would have been released from prison in June 2015, adding that he served his sentence in Turkey in line with existing laws concerning the enforcement of sentences and not in line with newly adopted laws as claimed in the media.

Belgian media claimed that Çallı was released under a law adopted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in April 2020 to release thousands of inmates to ease overcrowding in jails and protect detainees from the coronavirus.

The legislation drew harsh criticism from opposition parties and rights groups for excluding thousands of political prisoners, including journalists, lawyers, politicians and rights activists swept up in a crackdown following a coup attempt in 2016.

Çallı was sent to Turkey according to the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, which stipulates that the sentence of the convict should be converted into the laws of the country to which he was sent and that that country is required to inform the other country of the way the sentence is applied and of a possible release.

However, this is not the case for Turkey. Sharon Beavis, a spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry, told Belgian newspaper Nieuwsblad that Belgium had no influence on the penal procedures regarding Çallı after his extradition to Turkey.

Gender-based violence is a serious problem in Turkey where the male perpetrators mostly avoid punishment or are given lighter sentences. According to a report published in March 2021 by Sezgin Tanrıkulu,  a human rights defender and Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker, nearly 7,000 women were victims of femicide during the 18 years that the Justice and Development Party had been in power.

Despite public outrage, President Erdoğan issued a decree on March 20, 2021 withdrawing Turkey from the İstanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s (CoE) binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women.

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