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Turkish Citizen Hatem Özdemir's Retrial Was Not Impartial, Says Lawyer

11 Jun
Turkish Citizen Hatem Özdemir's Retrial Was Not Impartial, Says Lawyer

Iran Human Rights (IHRNGO); June 11, 2024: Hatem Özdemir, a Kurdish Turkey national and Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) member held in Urmia Central Prison, has been resentenced to death by Branch 3 of the Urmia Revolutionary Court in absentia and without his lawyers being notified or present. His sentence was previously overturned by the Supreme Court based on eyewitness accounts and expert testimonies.

Iran Human Rights interviewed Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht, one of Hatem Özedemir’s lawyers, about the details of his client’s case.

Why was Hatam resentenced to death when his conviction was previously overturned by the Supreme Court?

The fact is that Hatem Özdemir was previously sentenced to death for the same charge of baghy, that is, armed rebellion against the government of the Islamic Republic and membership in the Kurdistan Workers' Party. I, as the original lawyer in the case, along with another colleague in Urmia, who later joined me in this case, protested against that ruling, and Branch 9 of the Supreme Court, in a reasoned and documented decision, overruled the Revolutionary Court’s decision and referred the case to a court of equal standing. Referring the case to a court of equal standing means that in essence, the judgment has been breached. In other words, Branch 9 of the Supreme Court did not accept that Hatem Özdemir was a baaghy (one who commits baghy) or the conducted investigation. They ruled for a another reconstruction of the scene and for the witnesses to be reinterviewed.

Branch 3 of the Urmia Revolutionary Court which retried the case, did so without observing legal provisions because it’s necessary for the defence lawyer and defendant to be present at the reconstruction of the scene, witness interviews and other proceedings and neither were present. Even the judge who was presiding at Branch 3 prior to September 2023, had ordered the investigation on that basis. But he was either transferred or retired and replaced with Mr Reza Najafzadeh who ordered Hatem’s case to be referred to the Chaldran General and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office to be investigated. His case is in the hands of an investigator who has previously received legal cautions on several occasions for incomplete and incorrect proceedings and numerous legal problems.


How was Hatem’s case reinvestigated by the Chaldran Prosecutor’s Office?

Other than two witnesses, all the others were new witnesses who had not testified in the case before so there was no way to conduct more accurate and proper investigation because they weren’t the same people. The two witnesses who were present at the scene of Hatem’s arrest testified that when IRGC forces attacked the armed PKK members in the Chaldran region, a few mortars exploded near Hatam so he suffered from shell shock and passed out. They had to take him to hospital after his arrest.

On the other hand, at the request of his lawyers, Khoy Revolutionary Court issued an order to test the weapon that was allegedly shot by Hatem three years ago and a weapon expert was sent to the scene in Chaldaran. The expert testified that he had tested 10 cartridges and none matched Hatem’s gun, he hadn’t used his gun that day.

Furthermore, Hatem and his companions were trying to reach the Qandil mountains through Iran soil to receive military training to fight against ISIS as PKK guerillas, they had no intention of clashing with Iranian armed forces. As well as the gun expert, the two witnesses also testified to seeing him passed out and that Hatem had not used his weapon.

Unfortunately, 4-5 people who were introduced as witnesses in the new investigation, were not present at the scene and despite swearing an oath, there are a lot discrepancies in their stories. Also, neither the defendant or his lawyers were present at the scene.

On 23 April 2024, the Urmia Revolutionary Court sentenced Hatem to death for charges of baghy for shooting his weapon during the armed clash between Iranian armed forces and PKK guerillas without he or his lawyers being notified of the trial. This is despite the fact that baghy requires the defendant to have used their weapon according to the Islamic Penal Code (IPC) and Hatem hadn’t used his gun. Additionally, the Assistant Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, representing the Attorney General of the country, had already specified three reasons for why Hatem cannot be convicted of baghy charges:

First, that from the moment he was arrested, Hatem declared that his organisation had forbidden them from clashing with Iranian forces. They were instructed to either surrender or stay out of shooting range if they come across Iranian forces to avoid any conflict.

Second, the Assistant Prosecutor of the Supreme Court had confirmed that Hatem did not use his weapon against IRGC forces.

Third, that the indictment issued by the Chaldaran Prosecutor’s Office is confusing and accuses Hatem of both baghy and moharebeh (enmity against god). I prefer not to comment on this part of the indictment.

This case should be dealt with in an impartial way in my opinion, and unfortunately, the case is in the hands of an individual who didn’t investigate it impartially. On the other hand, the judgement by the Urmia Revolutionary Court is two pages, one page of which is copied from the Khoi Revolutionary Court verdict. On the second page, it also states that the defendant continued fighting until the last moment, while it was previously stated in the IRGC report and investigation that Hatem did not use his weapon in any way.

I am confident that if the case is referred to another branch like the previous branch in the Supreme Court and they impartially read the entire case page by page, such a decision will not be accepted. Especially since the opinion of the prosecutors of the Supreme Court won’t  change because nothing has been changed in the case and our defences are almost the same. The only thing that has changed are the contradictions in the statements of the new witnesses.


Has the Turkish government taken any steps to save its citizen from the death penalty?

As far as I know, the Turkish government or their consulate in Iran have not taken any action in this case, and in light of previous cases, even if PKK members escape execution in Iran or return to Turkey after completing their sentences, they will be re-arrested and sentenced to severe punishments.