Sheri Laizer visited Hüseyin Baybaşin, held hostage in Holland for the past twenty years with Turkey having blackmailed the Dutch over the ‘Demmink Dossier’ and the intended quashing of Kurdish foundations.
The rain falls relentlessly. It is cold for a spring day. Painted in royal Dutch orange and hard blue, the designer of the 1989 built De Schie penitentiary, Carel Weeber, perhaps hoped it would appear cheerful set alongside the murky De Schie canal. Those incarcerated within cannot enjoy the view as the windows are opaque and within there is a cold blue and dirty cream. Blank windows deprive inmates of all natural perspectives on the world beyond, aside from onto the exercise yard; the clear windows are only outside the walls.
In legal terms, Hüseyin Baybaşin should not be held in this prison at all: it is categorised as a short stay or remand prison1 and he was unjustly condemned to the living-death row of those without parole. For lifers, different support facilities are the rule. But as with everything in this case an exception has been exercised – exceptions that are always against the wellbeing of Hüseyin Baybaşin. These exceptions repeat the message “We are in control!”
Determined to cover up falsified police and prosecution evidence – including the splicing together of unrelated phone recordings to create suitable scenarios for crime, the reconsideration process has already taken an abnormal seven years. The Dutch Justice Ministry continues to persecute this Kurdish man primarily to protect certain lofty heads from rolling… but roll they must. This is the Dutch ‘Dreyfus Affair’ that refuses to go away.
This is the Dutch ‘Dreyfus Affair’ that refuses to go away.
Confined to a cell 9 metres square, deprived of access to art materials and books “unless sent in by the publisher” Hüseyin Baybaşin refuses to be broken or give up insisting on his innocence. He has survived six years’ deliberate deprivation in solitary confinement in EBI Vught Maximum Security Prison intended to break his mind, body and spirit. Had he caved in the long term problems posed by his case for the conspirators would have been resolved but Baybaşin is strong willed, strengthened by the knowledge of his innocence and determined never to give up.
A prison visit
On this rainy Sunday afternoon when Hüseyin walks into the simple visiting room and sits opposite me I feel that I have known him forever: In a way, actually, I have. I first met him and his family in the 1990s while working with the Kurdish community in London. At the time I was making frequent films in the Kurdish region as well as coordinating refugee projects for arrivals from the war torn Kurdish homeland. After Hüseyin was arrested a second time by the Dutch police in 1998 I agreed to translate Mahmut Baksi’s book on the affair, despite its many flaws. My uncorrected manuscript with its translation typos went straight to print. Years later, contact having been lost, I was truly surprised to learn that Hüseyin had not been freed in the interim.
Police theatrics and media circuses
In 1998, nearly twenty years ago, when Hüseyin was manhandled into captivity in the course of a showpiece police raid on his residence in the Netherlands (he had already been prohibited from leaving after an initial arrest and release the year before) the siege was all about appearances: There was no Interpol arrest warrant. The Dutch police could have gone about their business quietly and asked Hüseyin to accompany them but the show of force was required to convey the message that something was amiss. Raids were also orchestrated on the homes of his friends and relatives – these later came to nothing. But it served the Turkish media well. A web of lies was spun that holds till this day.
The smear campaign: “My family didn’t suddenly turn into criminals overnight!”
“My family didn’t suddenly become criminals overnight!” Huseyin said, explaining that the plot was constructed in such a way to cause maximum damage to his friends and family.“ The UK had welcomed my relatives on account of my good relations with senior UK figures. They didn’t suddenly turn into criminals overnight! They led normal lives and still do. My brother, Apo, was also set up but was acquitted when no direct evidence was found to link him to the incidents concerned.2 All of my family members were checked by the UK authorities before they entered the UK in 1995 and all had clean records. They had never set foot in a police station in all their lives. People don’t suddenly become criminals when they are over the age of 40. I was taken hostage in 1995 and suddenly all my family were labelled criminals in 1996. This smear campaign was part of the master-plan to present my family as “drug barons” instead of our being just Kurds from a reputable family back home. We had resources there, including a marble quarry, very large agricultural farming lands with crops and livestock as well as watermills etc. From the early 1990s onwards we could not run the farm and derive an income because of Turkish military operations against Kurdish villages. We came to the UK and everything about our profiles and assets was checked, documented and we were cleared.
With the Turkish military and Special Teams everywhere no Kurds were growing poppies or would even have thought to do so! This is not Afghanistan – look at the map! In that area poppies don’t even grow. If it were possible, they could take a license and grow them, like they do in the west of Turkey in such places as Isparta, Karahisar, Afyon and so on. The government licences such crops in western Turkey and take their cut as with tobacco. Our environment doesn’t support such a crop so not a single license was ever sought. Lice is not situated on Syria’s border where they claimed the poppies were being harvested. A little common sense shows this is just nonsense. The Turkish government knows it to be quite impossible. It was a claim they made to the media just to suit their own purposes and damn the Kurds, my family included.
Over the years, a number of former prison governors and wardens have come to believe in Hüseyin Baybaşin’s innocence – and this chiefly through close proximity. One civil servant indeed organised a legal public protest. He told me he knew all about Baybasin being innocent and was fed up with the situation. He wanted to make a statement in moral support and send Hüseyin a greeting through the air. The civil servant hired a plane and left Roosendaal flying for four hours over his country trailing a banner across the Dutch skies accompanied by a second plane filming. Hüseyin was in Zuyder Bos Prison near Alkmar at the time and the plane flew overhead where by sheer chance Hüseyin saw it. The banner read “Free Baybaşin Now.” A short video was published on YouTube. Hüseyin was punished for the action and spent two weeks in solitary confinement in EBI Vught because of the protest action.
“I was then sent on to De Schie Prison, Rotterdam, where I am now and where I have no creative or other outlets. Before this I had a small garden with chickens as they sentenced me to life without parole. The “ugly treatment and pressure on me continued.”
Fabricated phone recordings –like something out of Dr Who
Several days before finally securing a visit to see Hüseyin in De Schie Penitentiary I listened to sections of phone conversations where the intercept recordings had clearly been tampered with; the recording quality changed, mechanical noises intervened, the voice quality of the speakers also changed as if from different sessions and finally, the female technician in the police recording studio who was stating the time codes suddenly interrupted the recording mid conversation rather than at the beginning or end, as required. The recording sounded like something out of Dr Who accosted by the Daleks.5 These intercepts/phone tap recordings taken from normal conversations have not been competently handled – they are not forensic, not ‘secure’ as the Dutch Attorney General has been determined to argue, ignoring the obvious.
Incredibly, 95% of the prosecution evidence used to sentence Hüseyin Baybaşin has been based on these faked telephone conversations. In key sections missing phrases and key words have been filled in by complicit police interpreters on paper so as to create a ‘criminal’ scenario where none originally existed. The recordings have also been spliced together from disparate conversations. Just to frame him.
Turkish Aydinlik newspaper recently published a series of supportive updates on the case exposing the deeper basis of the plot between Turkey and the Dutch authorities as well referring to the fabricated phone tap ‘evidence’ used to secure the conviction.6
The article reminds its audience how at the time in question, former PM Tansu Çiller was determined to “silence Baybaşin” because he had accused her and and former police chief, Mehmet Agar, among others, of heading the narcotics trade in Turkey. Çiller met with Dutch Justice Minister, Winnie Sordrager, at the beginning of 1997 and the “Demmink file” concerning the rape and violation of underage Turkish boys7 was set on the table in exchange for Baybaşin’s silencing. At the time, Demmink was Director General of International Affairs of the Dutch Ministry of Justice and as a member of the EU K4 committee he was especially responsible for the Kurdish-Turkish conflict.
Former Head of the Dutch Department of Criminal Intelligence finds there to have “been a conspiracy of which Baybaşin was the victim”
Former Head of the Dutch Department of Criminal Intelligence, who specialised in major cases of organised crime, Mr Klass Langendoen, also addressed the Helsinki Commission. He had carried out an independent investigation into the case nine years before “examining alleged manipulation of wire taps… as well as blackmail by the Turkish government…I mused that this level of corruption could never occur in my country where I had worked so hard fighting against organised crime. I used the method of the “reverse burden of proof” … “the research that I did in the Netherlands proved to me that it was possible to manipulate wire taps and also allowing innocent people to be found guilty…eventually the Dutch Justice Department hired an expert who was not qualified to carry out the research and (who) came to his own conclusion. The result was that this expert gave a wrong assessment upon which Baybaşin was sentenced for life in prison. After the sentencing I continued my research…I did extensive research in Turkey. I’ve spoken with almost all the witnesses in this case individuals and officials… the results of my research were shocking for me: there was a conspiracy of which Baybaşin was the victim – there was a set up, or cover up, between the Turkish and the Dutch government officials at the highest level…8
At the time, Demmink was Director General of International Affairs of the Dutch Ministry of Justice and as a member of the EU K4 committee he was especially responsible for the Kurdish-Turkish conflict. 9
The media circus went to town determined to brand not Çiller et al, but Baybaşin, as the drug baron. Çiller has enjoyed wealth, liberty, and perhaps a certain peace of mind ever since? And Demmink still eludes full investigation.
Obstruction of justice continues
Hüseyin sneezes suddenly – a symptom of stress. “I have had to lodge some 4,000 complaints for the various infringements of my rights and civil liberties since being taken hostage,” he went on as the raindrops slid down the slanted skylights overhead. “Every little thing that they can deny me they do deny me even though a judge has ordered otherwise. These measures against me contravene their own laws. No Dutch prisoner – not even a convicted killer – is treated like this. What does that tell you? The system is ugly and lacks all moral responsibility. The former governors that came together in support of me were horrified by their own administration and have protested loudly. They are people with morals that those who keep their fists pressed down tight on this file could learn a lot from! They have formed a foundation called ‘Restore Justice’ and my case is their project. I would like the international rights organisations to look into this case and see for themselves, ask themselves how could this happen in a country like Holland and why are they keeping silent on this case.
Visit over, case continues
After months of telephone interviews and attempts to secure a visit I was in the same room but the hands of the clock were moving quickly. We’d discussed fresh aspects of the exonerating evidence, past and present prison conditions, and even details of several old acquaintances we held in common – some alive, some ill or increasingly aged, others in their graves. We were face to face and eye to eye but after just one hour the visit was nearing its last moments…
It is often said that ‘the eyes are the window of the soul’. I was conscious of looking into the soul of an innocent man.10
1 Remand prisons do not provide the facilities or services for long-term inmates. Despite repeated requests for transfer as the case continues the requests are ignored.
4 See current affairs and case notes on Hüseyin Baybaşin’s website – he is deprived of direct access to the Internet – http://www.huseyin-baybasin.com/
5 A touch of irony! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22DX-6szePE
7 Demmink had also been accused of committing paedophile acts in Romania and the Czech Republic.
8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDiZ3aCJp18 from 44.15-53.53
9 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDiZ3aCJp18 especially 34-44 minutes onwards with Adele van der Plas testimony on Demmink’s cover-ups and abuse of high office.
10 Please read and sign the petition, # Free Hüseyin Baybaşin on Change.org
Sheri Laizer, a Middle East and North African expert specialist and well known commentator on the Kurdish issue. She is a contributing writer for Ekurd.net. More about Sheri Laizer see below.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.