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Kurdish villager dumped from helicopter sentenced to prison on terrorism conviction

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A Turkish court has handed down a prison sentence of seven-and-a-half years to a Kurdish villager who was allegedly dumped off a military helicopter and beaten by security forces in southeastern Turkey in 2020, the Mezopotamya news agency reported.

The ruling from the Mersin 2nd High Criminal Court concerns Osman Şiban, who along with another Kurdish villager, Servet Turgut, were detained by gendarmes while working on their farm in the eastern province of Van in in September 2020 and were allegedly pushed out of a military helicopter. Initial reporting on the incident by rights groups and media outlets cited a medical report giving the reason for their admission to the hospital as a “fall from a height.”

Yet, research by opposition deputy and investigative journalist Ahmet Şık revealed in November 2020 that the villagers were in fact assaulted by a mob of more than 100 soldiers.

No individual involved in the incident has been indicted, although families of the victims have filed criminal complaints against the relevant security force members. However, criminal charges were filed against Şiban in December 2021 by the Van Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. In the indictment, Şiban was accused of membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

According to the indictment, Şiban provided logistical support to the PKK, with militants receiving food from his house in the village of Surik. Three 40 to 50-liter containers of diesel fuel that were found in the vicinity of Şiban’s house were also considered evidence in the indictment.

The indictment also included the testimony of an informant who claimed that two top PKK figures, Murat Karayılan and Mahsum Korkmaz, had a meeting at Şiban’s house at the time.

At the last hearing on Tuesday, Şiban was given the lengthy prison sentence on charges of terrorist organization membership. A travel ban imposed on him would also remain in place, according to the court’s decision.

Şiban did not attend the hearing. His lawyers said they would appeal the court’s decision, which means that their client will not immediately be jailed.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who spoke in parliament in November 2020 about the incident concerning Şiban and Turgut, did not respond to the allegations of torture, yet described them as “militia” of the PKK.

In fact, throwing people to their death from a helicopter was commonplace in Turkey in the 1990s, when the Kurds were the victims of extraordinary violence. As is the case today, the then-ill treatment received almost no media coverage. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in 1995 that suspected female terrorists were thrown from a helicopter on May 14, 1994, citing a “reliable” witness.

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