Bulut Yayla is a left-wing activist and archeology student who stands accused in Turkey of ties to a militant Marxist-Leninist group that has claimed responsibility for a number of bombings. His lawyer claims that the Turkish state’s evidence consists of “his attendance at May Day protests, his public calls for free education and his membership of Turkey’s Youth Federation, a left-wing revolutionary youth organisation which opposes membership to the EU and alliance with the US” (Independent, 8 June 2013). The assertion that Yayla is being persecuted for his political beliefs under a phony counter-terror rubric fits in with allegations made against the current Turkish government by human rights groups and international officials. In November 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee admonished Turkey for utilizing “a vague counterterrorism law to prosecute activists, lawyers and journalists” (Reuters, 18 January 2013).
Nearly 1,000 students are now being held in Turkish prisons on similar charges to Bulut, lawyers say. In February, a French-Turkish student was jailed for five years for “spreading terrorist propaganda” after taking part in a left-wing protest (Independent, 8 June 2013).
In April, Yayla fled to Greece to escape what he claims was detention and torture by security forces loyal to Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On May 30 he was abducted by a group of men who pushed him into a car with a license plate number that later identified the vehicle as belonging to Greek police. Just days later his family received a call from Turkish authorities letting them know he was being held by them.
“He was seized, handcuffed and shoved by force in a car where they closed his eyes, nose and mouth, and tortured him,” Bulut’s lawyer, Evrim Deniz Karatana, wrote in an email to The Independent after seeing her client in Turkey. She says that throughout the long journey from Athens to Istanbul, he could hardly breathe as a black hood and a ski mask were placed over his head. Once at the Greek-Turkish border, she claims his abductors forced him to crawl under a border fence, where the Greek team handed him over to an English-speaking team. He was beaten again.
According to his lawyer, Turkish police joked as they pulled the hood off his head, saying: “Welcome to our country.” Bulut was now in the town of Edirne, close to the Greek border. A few hours later, a team from Turkey’s anti-terrorist squad picked him up and drove him to Istanbul where his lawyer and parents were informed of his detention. “As a refugee he should have access to asylum procedure from the first moment, and the Greek state should protect him from Turkey and not leave him helpless,” said Spiros Kouloheris, of the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), which processes asylum claims in Greece. “The way he ended up in Turkey is very vague” (Independent, 8 June 2013).
Today the US State Department released a statement labeling Bulut Yayla a “trained operative of the DHKP/C, a Marxist terrorist organization which used a suicide bomber to attack US Embassy Ankara on February 1, 2013” and declared that “all property subject to US jurisdiction, in which Yayla has any interest is blocked and any assets he may have under US jurisdiction are frozen.” It is unknown what evidence the US relied upon to come to this conclusion and take such action. Additionally, thanks to the US Supreme Court’s decision in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, any type of assistance offered to Yayla, including legal counseling and representation, could conceivably be considered a criminal act of “material support” for terrorist activity. If any members of Yayla’s legal defense team were to enter the US, it is possible that they could be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a designated foreign terrorist.