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Amnesty calls for
release of conscientious objector

Amnesty calls for
release of conscientious objector

Amnesty International urged Turkey on Friday to release a gay conscientious objector who is serving a record four-year term in a military prison for disobedience after refusing twice to wear his military uniform. Mehmet Tarhan was sentenced by a military court in the eastern city of Sivas in August. The prison term was the highest passed down to a conscientious objector in Turkey, a country that opened European Union membership talks in November.

Earlier this month an appeals court overturned the sentence and requested a retrial, calling for an intimate medical examination to establish that Tarhan is gay and "unfit to serve" his military service. Amnesty called for Tarhan's immediate release, for Turkey to recognize the right to conscientious objection, and to establish a civilian service as an alternative to compulsory military conscription.

It also asked Turkey not to subject Tarhan to a "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" physical examination. "Amnesty International is concerned that the Turkish authorities are focusing on Mehmet Tarhan's sexual orientation as a means of avoiding the wider issue of conscientious objection to military service, which is not recognized in Turkey," the group said.

Conscription in Turkey is obligatory for men over the age of 20, and conscientious objectors have been prosecuted on charges of turning people against the military. Conscientious objectors find few supporters in Turkey, where the military is revered, conscription has widespread support, and young men are sent off to do their military service amid celebrations.

Tarhan was first put in a military prison shortly after he was forcibly conscripted in April for refusing to wear his uniform. He was released three months later and again refused to wear a uniform and was again sent to prison. Tarhan's lawyer, Suna Coskun, said that during her client's first imprisonment he was beaten and threatened by fellow inmates, who also forced him to give them money. (AP)

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