Turkish Court Ratifies Christian’s Sentence

ISTANBUL (Compass)–Syrian Christian prisoner Soner Onder’s final defense appeal was denied today in Ankara by the Turkish Supreme Court–remanding the 23-year-old defendant to another six and one-half years in Istanbul’s Umraniye Military Prison.

Originally given the death penalty commuted to life in prison–Onder received a reduced sentence of 16 years and eight months last December by an Istanbul State Security Court. Today’s Supreme Court ruling ratified this sentence–handed down for Onder’s alleged involvement in a Kurdish terrorist attack in Istanbul six years ago.

Onder has been imprisoned without bail since the incident on December 25–1991–when he was 17 years old. Born in Turkey’s southeast–where Kurdish separatists have been battling government troops for more than a decade–Onder was arrested in the vicinity of a deadly firebombing when police saw his birthplace on his identity card.

Onder’s family have maintained the boy’s innocence–declaring that the boy was returning from a church service on Christmas Day when arrested off a minibus in a police sweep.

The police report claiming he was arrested at the scene of the attack with Molotov cocktails in his hands was later repudiated in court by one of the officers who signed it.

Onder’s attorney–human rights advocate Hasip Kaplan–had asked the court to overturn the original sentence against his client–declaring that key evidence for his defense had been ignored in the verdict.

According to the defense–Onder’s signed "confession" was extracted under torture–as verified by the official medical report. In addition–the other suspects named on his arrest warrant were all released for lack of evidence–and no proof was found that he had links with the illegal Kurdistan Workers’ Party behind the attack.

Onder’s elder brother Teoman told Compass that the Ankara ruling cleared the way for his brother’s case to be appealed in Strasbourg before the European Commission on Human Rights. Under the commission’s prerequisites set up under the European Convention for Human Rights signed and ratified by Turkey–all judicial means within member countries must be exhausted before application is made.

"Unfortunately–this will take at least another two or three years–if it is even accepted," Onder said. Only about 10 percent of the cases brought before the commission are accepted for review by the European Court on Human Rights.

Due to Turkish parole regulations–Onder will be eligible for release shortly after his 30th birthday–after serving about three-quarters of his final sentence–or a total of 12 and one-half years.

Onder is a member of Turkey’s dwindling Syrian Christian community–now reduced to less than 2,000 in the war-torn Southeast–where some 70,000 had lived in the 1930s.

Two 4th century monasteries in Mardin province–representative of the dozens which once served the community–still keep alive the Syriac language–considered closest to the Aramaic dialect spoken by Christ.

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