Turkish authorities arrest disabled bomb disposal expert on terrorism conviction

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Bilal Konakçı, a bomb disposal expert with the police who lost his hand and was blinded in an explosion, was arrested on Feb.21 after Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a conviction and sentence handed down on the charge of membership in a terrorist organization, Turkish media reported.

Konakçı was arrested despite being almost totally disabled and unable to take care of himself. Speaking to Bold Medya, his wife Özlem Konakçı said her husband had limited motor skills and could not even eat on his own.

Konakçı was a decorated police officer whose life was upended in 2009 after a bomb left in front of a school detonated while he was trying to defuse it. Besides losing his eyesight and right hand, he also lost some of the fingers on his left hand. He has difficulty walking as well as hearing loss.

Konakçı was arrested after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 for links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

He was accused of terrorism for having an account at Bank Asya, a commercial bank founded by businessmen affiliated with the Gülen movement, and for using the ByLock messaging app. He was released and placed under house arrest after remaining in police custody and in prison for more than a month.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members, and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Özlem Konakçı expressed her worries about her husband’s well-being in prison. “My husband cannot move well and has a slow blood flow,” she said. “He feels cold all the time, and even so he was not allowed extra clothes in prison. The last time I talked to him, he said he was cold all the time.”

According to his wife, Konakçı was having difficulty using the prison stairs and could barely use the bathroom because of his motor problems. Konakçı is currently staying in a quarantine cell with only one other person who tried to help him take care of himself.

Following the coup attempt the Turkish government accepted such activities as having an account at the now-closed Bank Asya, one of Turkey’s largest commercial banks at the time, and using the encrypted messaging application ByLock, which was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, as benchmarks for identifying and arresting alleged followers of the Gülen movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

Kemal Karanfil, a former judge, said from on Twitter that he could not understand how the Supreme Court of Appeals could uphold Konakçı’s sentence. He said a blind and partially amputated Konakçı could not possibly use a smartphone application. He added that the court did not provide any messaging content from the application and that the evidence suggesting he used the app was obtained illegally.

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy and human rights activist Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said it was unbelievable that Konakçı could be imprisoned. “What kind of judge upholds a prison sentence for a 98% disabled man,” he tweeted.

According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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