Turkish Judge Resigns from Police Murder Trial

AFYON–Turkey (Reuters)–The judge in a high-profile trial of 11 Turkish policemen accused of involvement in the murder of a journalist resigned from the case on Thursday–citing intolerable pressures.

Judge Kamil Serif said in a statement he was quitting because of "efforts to influence the case in positive and negative ways by foreign and domestic foundations and companies as well as some politicians."

The killing of leftist journalist Metin Goktepe–beaten to death in police custody in January–1996–has become a leading human rights case. Foreign and domestic rights activists see the trial as a test of Turkey’s promises to punish rights abuses.

Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said on Wednesday that Turkey was improving its rights record and added that some criticism of it was unfair.

"We as a government know where our weaknesses lie and…we will remedy them," he told a meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna.

The judge at the murder trial in the town of Afyon said he had received "letters and telephone calls from Istanbul–Ankara and Australia" and had been hurt and disturbed by local and foreign reports that he had been bribed.

The court adjourned until later this month and sent the resignation letter to a higher court for confirmation.

The 11 policemen are accused of playing a part in Goktepe’s death. The trial has been moved from Istanbul to Afyon in what rights activists say was a bid to keep it out of the public eye.

Hearings of the trial are conducted under high security and the courthouse is often surrounded by demonstrating Turkish human rights activists.

Foreign rights organizations have also sent observers.

One of Turkey’s most celebrated human rights activists on Thursday came a step nearer a pardon on health grounds for a 22-year jail sentence.

Anatolian news agency said Esber Yagmurdereli–a blind activist jailed for "spreading separatist propaganda," had received a medical check-up–a first step toward a pardon.

Yagmurdereli’s conviction last month was based on speeches he made calling for a peaceful end to Turkey’s long-running Kurdish conflict. His jailing angered Turkey’s Western allies.

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