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Four rights activists on trial for "alienating the public against the military"

(BIANET/IFEX) - Four supporters of a conscientious objector are being tried for "alienating the public against the military."

Mehmet Atak, Oguz Sönmez, Gürsat Özdamar and Serkan Bayram all face prison sentences in a trial at the Beyoglu 2nd Criminal Court of Peace in Istanbul for supporting conscientious objector Mehmet Bal.

They are charged with "alienating the public against the military" under Article 318 of the Turkish Penal Code.

The rights activists, who face up to two years' imprisonment, had protested against the fact that Bal, who had been imprisoned for six months, was rearrested and taken to a military prison, where he is said to have been tortured.

The next court hearing was scheduled for 15 July. Defence lawyer and human rights activist Eren Keskin spoke at the hearing.

Members of the Anti-Militarist Initiative gathered at Galatasaray Square in Istanbul on 11 June 2008, protesting against Bal's mistreatment with slogans and placards.

Following a press statement, a plain clothes police inspector collected IDs from the protesters. During an ensuing argument the four activists were taken into custody.

Keskin has said in court that making press statements does not require permission from the authorities and that shouting slogans is also not illegal, reminding the court that the real crime is Bal's torture.

She added that, during the protests, she had also been next to Bal, who had been brought in on a stretcher clearly showing signs that he had been tortured. The lawyer argued that the real problem was how conscientious objection was being dealt with in Turkey and how the country was resisting any amendments to its legislation despite pressure to do so from the European Court of Human Rights.

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