"Modern-day Dreyfus" finally freed after decade-long ordeal

Yekta Uzunoglu, photo: CTK

His supporters have compared it to the famous Dreyfus case of 100 years ago. On Tuesday, after almost 13 years of legal proceedings and 31 months spent in custody, a Prague court of appeal finally cleared Kurdish doctor and businessman Yekta Uzunoglu of all the charges against him. At one time those charges had included torture, conspiracy to murder and fraud. In March 2007, Dr Uzunoglu was convicted, despite compelling evidence that the accusations against him were fabricated and the chief witness retracting his testimony. On Tuesday that verdict was quashed. Professor Frantisek Janouch, director of the Charter 77 Foundation, spearheaded the decade-long campaign to clear Dr Uzunoglu's name. Earlier Rob Cameron spoke to him by telephone from his home in Sweden, and asked him for his reaction to the news.

Yekta Uzunoglu, photo: CTK
"I got it a few minutes after the judge said he was innocent; somebody SMSed me from the courtroom. I was really very happy. It was my suggestion that we should write an open letter to accuse the Czech authorities of neglecting their constitutional duties, and we formulated the letter like Emile Zola's famous letter J'accuse."

So you think this really can be compared to the Dreyfus case of 100 years ago.

Alfred Dreyfus
"Yes, I think it can be compared. I think it is in a way even worse. There are certain striking parallels. First of all, Dreyfus was arrested in 1894. Dr Uzunoglu was arrested in 1994, exactly 100 years later. The Dreyfus case took 12 years before it was settled and Dreyfus was released, rehabilitated and decorated. And both the Dreyfus case and the Uzunoglu case have a xenophobic background. Dreyfus was a Jew, and Dr Uzunoglu is a Kurd, which for some in Czech society makes him something of a second-class citizen."

If Yekta Uzunoglu can be compared to Alfred Dreyfus, can we compare you to Emile Zola?

"Certainly not. I just copied what Zola did. But the response of the Czech society was tremendous."

I suppose the question uppermost in many people's minds is - how is this possible? How could a man wait thirteen years to be exonerated of a crime he did not commit, in a modern, democratic state like the Czech Republic?

"I have no answer to this question. There were economic interests. There were remaining structures, communist structures, in the police and in the justice system. Dr Uzunoglu has an extraordinary talent to do business. And this was making people jealous and angry with him. They wanted to destroy him. He was doing business in a way which the communist structures, the old communist functionaries, were not used to."