Feb 06 2019

Şule Çet rape, murder suspects ordered detained after first court hearing

A court in the Turkish capital city of Ankara has ordered the two men charged with raping and killing Şule Çet, a university student, to remain in detention after the first hearing in their trial.

The judge called for a break in proceedings at the end of the first hearing, setting May 15 as the date for the next.

Çet’s body was found to have fallen from an office on the 20th storey of a skyscraper in Ankara in the early hours of May 24, 2018.

Initial police reports said Çet had committed suicide. However, an autopsy report published in July included forensic evidence showing signs the 23-year-old student had been anally raped before her death. Çet’s family’s legal team has presented reports to court showing evidence of forced vaginal intercourse, and of a bite on Çet’s buttock and other injuries consistent with rape.

The two defendants, Çağatay Aksu and Berk Akand (reported elsewhere as Berk Arand), were arrested on July 14 after previously being released after questioning by police. Both men have been charged with premeditated murder, sexual assault and deprivation of liberty. The prosecution has requested life sentences plus 38 years for both defendants. Both men deny the charges against them.

The trial began on Wednesday at the 34th High Criminal Court in Ankara under intensive security measures, reflecting the high interest in the case among many Turks who see Çet’s death as a symptom and symbol of the violence faced by women in Turkey.

An extract from a forensics report provided by the defence whipped up controversy the week before the trial when it was shared on social media by the Turkish Women’s Assemblies organisation. The report stated that a woman's agreement to drink alcohol with a man in a secluded place counted as sexual consent.

The Çet family’s @suleicinadalet Twitter account, which tweeted live from the hearing, reported that the defence had stressed that Şule Çet was not a virgin and that she drank alcohol.

At one point, the presiding judge asked Çet’s flatmate if she had brought her boyfriend home with her.

By the end of the first hearing, the defence had announced its intention to file a complaint against the Çet family, which it said had stirred up unwarranted attention for the case by “posting thousands of tweets under the hashtag #suleicinadalet (justice for Şule)”.

The court rejected several women’s associations’ applications to participate in the trial, BBC Türkçe’s İrem Köker reported. Nevertheless, women’s rights groups and other civil society organisations were a marked presence at the court.

Aksu denied all charges during the first hearing, saying he had not touched Çet, let alone raped her. Towards the end of the first hearing, the defendant’s lawyer demanded not the expected release pending trial but a full acquittal for his client, drawing applause from Aksu’s supporters in the court and outrage from Çet’s family.

“You killed our daughter, what are you applauding?” said a woman from Çet’s family.

Aksu maintained that Çet, who had been working at a company he owned, had been troubled by problems with money, her studies and her family and that he had invited her to the office to help her clear her head.

“I was like an elder brother to her,” Aksu said. “We didn’t do anything except listen to music that night. Before she committed suicide, her psychological state was good.”

Aksu said Çet had suddenly walked towards the office window at around 3:50 a.m., and that she had then fallen to her death despite his attempts to grab hold of her and prevent her fall.

However, Çet’s family’s lawyer, Umur Yıldırım, says the police’s pictures from their investigation of the office show no signs of a struggle consistent with that claim, and no trace of Çet’s fingerprints on the window.

At one point during his cross examination, a lawyer asked Aksu questions about the office where the incident took place. “Who are you, a detective doing a crime scene investigation,” Aksu shot back.

Yıldırım has pieced together a sequence of events on the night through phone records and security camera footage from the skyscraper.

Akand’s lawyer also presented 11 pages of telephone records showing Aksu and Çet’s messages to one another.

Çet had reportedly lost her job after Aksu acquired the company she worked for and was looking to secure an income, and Aksu sent her a message promising to solve her problem the day before their final meeting.

The next evening, records revealed at the trial show, Aksu sent Çet a message telling her to meet him for a drink.

“I’m about to fall asleep,” Çet’s message said. “Get in a taxi and come,” Aksu responded.

Çet reportedly met Aksu at a restaurant called Rıfkı, before later going to the plaza with him and Akand, an old friend of Aksu’s, where they continued drinking.

Çet’s messages to her flatmate, Liliya, after meeting Aksu showed signs the student was in distress.

“Can you be here in 15 minutes,” Çet said to Liliya in one message while still at the restaurant.

Last June Vatan newspaper quoted Liliya as saying Çet had called her at 1:48 a.m., before entering the skyscraper, and asked her to call back to give her an excuse to leave.

In a text message 12 minutes later, Çet reportedly told Liliya, “I can’t get out of here, the man’s obsessed with me. He’s not leaving me alone, I wish I hadn’t come.”

Yıldırım said at Wednesday’s hearing that Çet had sent a final message of two words to a friend, which was interpreted at the court to be a slang term related to anal intercourse.

The last message from Çet’s phone was sent at 3:03 a.m., and she did not respond to her flatmate’s messages after that. The defendants’ phone records also showed no activity over the next hour, Yıldırım said in an interview with BBC Türkçe.

Akand is recorded on security camera footage looking visibly stressed in the building’s lobby as he informs the security personnel of the incident at around 4 a.m.

Çet was raped and then murdered during this time frame, Yıldırım told BBC Türkçe.

A witness statement Akif Deniz, one of the security personnel working on the night, said Aksu had appeared panic after the incident took place, but that Aksu was calm.

“Aksu left in his car, and Akand left the building then came back and then called Çağatay Aksu and shouted at him asking where he was and where the girl was,” Deniz said.

Fatih Abalı, the other security staff on duty on the night, said Akand had repeatedly asked Aksu where Çet was before Aksu pointed up towards the building and said “she fell.”

Both defendants stated that Berk Akand had not been present at the time of Çet’s death. Akand, who broke down in tears while giving his statement at court, said he had fallen asleep while listening to music and was woken by Aksu shouting his name.

Akand said he had heard the sounds of a computer being shut down and glasses being washed, before Aksu told him Çet had jumped out of the window.  

Akand said he had not believed Aksu at first, but later when he went to the lobby, he found no sign of Çet and was met by security guards who said they had heard a loud noise.

It was only after he called Aksu, Turkish newspaper BirGün quoted Akand as saying at the hearing, that he finally understood Çet had actually fallen from the window, and brought his friend to the police station.

However, another witness, Akand’s university friend Pınar Turgut, said Akand had sent her a message at 2:39 a.m. “Something very bad has happened, pick up your phone,” the message said.

Traces of Akand’s DNA were found under three or four of Çet’s fingernails. The defendant said this could have been transferred there when they shook hands, danced, when he offered her snacks, or when she touched his laptop.

The judge ordered a break until May 15, requesting expert witness reports by then to detail the injuries sustained by Çet, including what appears to be a broken neck and other broken bones, and whether any of these were inflicted before the fall. The reports should also state whether the mark on Çet’s buttock is from a bite, the judge said.

The judge has also asked for a report on the DNA traces found under Çet’s fingernails and whether these could have been transferred from a handshake.

A report has also been requested on Akand and Turgut’s phone records, including the times calls were made and videos and messages sent and their contents.

The judge also requested expert testimony on how long traces of prostate-specific antigen, a chemical present in seminal fluid, could remain in the body after sexual intercourse.