June 11, 2014 / 12:41 PM / 5 years ago

Turkish court overturns life sentence for sociologist over 1998 blast

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A top Turkish court on Wednesday overturned a life sentence imposed on a sociologist for an alleged role in a 1998 explosion, the latest twist in a case highlighting concerns about judicial independence.

Pinar Selek was charged with planting a bomb in Istanbul’s Ottoman-era Spice Bazaar, which killed seven people and wounded more than 100, in July 1998, but was released two and a half years later after experts concluded the blast had been caused by the accidental ignition of a gas cylinder.

The case against Selek, who lives in France, continued despite the findings and she was sentenced to life in prison in January, 2013, despite three previous acquittals.

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned that sentence on Wednesday on what local media reports said were procedural grounds, a verdict welcomed by campaigners who have fought for years for Selek’s definitive acquittal.

“This is a victory for the lawyers, for Pinar Selek ... but above all for those who are fighting for justice and freedom in Turkey,” said a statement on her website (www.pinarselek.fr).

Selek worked as a sociologist researching Kurdish issues in the mid-to-late 1990s and had contact with the outlawed militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Human rights groups have accused Turkey of using broad anti-terrorism laws, under which dozens of journalists have been jailed in the past, to silence dissent.

Human Rights Watch has described the case as a “travesty of justice”, saying there was substantial evidence that the explosion had been due to an accidental gas leak.

Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Tom Heneghan

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