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 151 Kurdish politicians appear at court in Turkey trial over PKK rebel links

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151 Kurdish politicians appear at court in Turkey trial over PKK rebel links  18.10.2010   

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151 high profile Kurdish politicians and rights defenders will appear at court for the first time on 18 October. ANF Photo.
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More than 60 civil society organizations in Diyarbakir called for the release of the elected politicians, members of professional unions and representatives of civil society organizations. Photo: Todays Zaman
October 18, 2010

DIYARBAKIR, Kurdish Southeastern region of Turkey, — A Turkish court began the trial Monday of 151 high profile Kurdish politicians and rights defenders, among them popular politicians, accused of being the urban wing of separatist Kurdish rebels, in a case seen as a democracy test for Ankara.

The trial coincides with cautious steps by the Turkish government to grant wider rights to its sizeable Kurdish community with the hope of ending a deadly 26-year Kurdish insurgency.

Heavy security was in place outside the courthouse in Diyarbakir, the regional capital of the mainly Kurdish southeast, for the trial which is also being followed by intellectuals and rights activists from Europe.

The 7,500-page indictment accuses the suspects of involvement in the Kurdistan Associations Union (KCK), which prosecutors describe as a terrorist group that acts as the urban extension of the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

It calls for jail terms ranging from five years to life in jail on various charges including "leadership and membership of a terrorist organisation", "undermining the state's unity", "spreading terrorist propaganda" and "aiding an abetting a terrorist organisation".

Among the suspects is Osman Baydemir, the popular mayor of Diyarbakir who risks up to 36 years in jail on various charges.

Eleven other regional mayors from Turkey's main Kurdish party -- the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) -- and former lawmaker Hatip Dicle are among the defendants. 

In Monday's hearing, defence lawyers demanded that they be allowed to make their arguments in Kurdish.

The judges adjourned the case until the afternoon to rule on the demand.

The indictment says the KCK recruited militants for the PKK, made all major decisions shaping Kurdish political life such as the selection of candidates for municipal and parliamentary seats, syphoned off money from Kurdish-held local administrations and orchestrated violent street protests.

Turkey's main Kurdish political parties allegedly acted in line with KCK directives and the organisation was said to be influential enough to slap sanctions on those who disobeyed its decisions.

 
 
 

Kurdish mayors were allegedly required to donate to the KCK the two first salaries they received upon election,www.ekurd.net while municipal employees were required to donate part of their salaries every month.

The indictment said the KCK was headed by an 11-strong board led by Sabri Ok, a senior PKK militant known to be based in Europe who is being tried in absentia.

The charges were brought as part of a massive crackdown on Kurdish activists in the southeast since last year, in which a number of weapons were seized.

Defence lawyers and Kurdish activists have slammed the trial as a move to "silence Kurds".

"Our clients are being tried as unarmed members of an armed group," lawyer Meral Danis Bestas told reporters last week.

"This is a political trial aimed at silencing Kurds... This trial will serve as a lithmus test for Turkey's democracy and how it views the Kurdish conflict," she said.

Since 1984 the PKK [Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan] took up arms for greater rights and autonomy in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey [Turkey-Kurdistan] which has claimed around 45,000 lives of Turkish soldiers and Kurdish PKK guerrillas.

The PKK demanded Turkey's recognition of the Kurds' identity in its constitution and of their language as a native language along with Turkish in the country's Kurdish areas, the party also demanded an end to ethnic discrimination in Turkish laws and constitution against Kurds, ranting them full political freedoms.

A large Turkey's Kurdish community estimate to over 20 million openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The PKK is considered a 'terrorist' organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list.

Since August last year, the Turkish government has been engaged in a cautious two-pronged strategy of keeping the PKK under military pressure and expanding the cultural and linguistic rights of its Kurdish population in the hope of persuading the rebels to lay down their weapons.

However, an ultimate settlement is not seen as a short-term prospect.

Ankara has already ruled out Kurdish demands for a constitutional recognition of their community as a distinct element of Turkey's population and calls for Kurdish-language education in public schools in the southeast.

Trial observers and protests

According to information of the BDP, more than 2,200 were taken into police custody in different provinces since 14 April 2009 in the scope of the 'KCK operation'. Approximately 1,500 people are in detention still. While a small number of defendants have been convicted already, some others were released pending trial. Most recently, another eight people were arrested in Urfa.

On the first day of trial protest actions will be organized in Diyarbakır and other provinces.

The İHD in Izmir and Istanbul are going to issue announcements accordingly.

Members of the Turkish Peace Parliament, representatives of leftist/socialist parties, NGO representatives, rights advocators and intellectuals are expected to monitor the trial in Diyarbakır.

The BDP Diyarbakır organization is going to set up a tent opposite of the courthouse.

Request for release

The DTP was strengthened by the result of the local elections on 28 March last year, even thought the ruling party (Justice and Development Party, AKP) had claimed the opposite. The so-called 'KCK operations' started right after the elections. The government had initiated the 'democratic opening' in July the same year. However, after a number of meetings the atmosphere had changed to the contrary by the end of 2009.

Attacks by the PKK had intensified and the number of casualties increased. The issue was again advanced by a ceasefire announced by the PKK in spring 2010, more frequent talks with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, the referendum on the constitutional reform package in September and discussions on constitutional amendments.

The basic request of the rights defenders and activists and most of all of the BDP is to release the defendants pending trial. The joint attorneys criticized that the long duration of detention has turned into a punishment itself. They announced to apply to the European Court of Human rights on behalf of several defendants.

KCK trial must be transparent says FIDH president

Belhassen said KCK trial one of the major violations against human rights defenders in Kurdish region. President of International Human Rights Federation (FIDH) Souyahr Belhassen says the trial of 151 Kurdish politicians which will be held tomorrow in Diyarbakir, must be transparent.

Belhassen said that tomorrow's trial is one of the major violations against human rights defenders in Kurdish region. He pointed that the deputy president of Human Rights Association (IHD) Muharrem Erbey will also stand trial and said that he is a symbol for the human rights struggle in Turkey.

Belhassen also said that it's their duty to inform the international community about the developments regarding the trial.

"The Kurdish politicians are standing trial because they demanded their cultural rights and expressed their opinions" he said.

"The prohibition of using the mother language must be considered a crime. The detention of Kurdish politicians is an act against freedom of expression"

Belhassen also called the government to reform the constitution in aspect of human and minority rights.

BDP called Kurds to join 'Peace Watch Action' in Diyarbakir

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MP Hamit Geylani called all Kurds to join 'Peace Watch Action' in front of the courthouse where 151 Kurdish politicians will stand trial today.

Kurdish activists will stand in front of the Diyarbakir Sixth High Criminal Court until the end of the trial to protest unlawful detention of the Kurdish politicians.

BDP MP Geylani said that detentions of Kurdish politicians has a negative impact on peace process and it's not compatible with democratic and international law norms.

He called all Kurds to join the "Peace Watch Action" in front of the courthouse saying that it's important to show support for the jailed Kurdish politicians.

Geylani also criticized Turkish Prime Ministers statements and told reporters that BPD supports all efforts for peace with all its sincerity.

Yesterday Erdogan said, in his party's group meeting, that BPD is not for peace in the region.

Copyright, respective author or news agency, AFP | bianet.org | firatnews.com | Ekurd.net | Agencies 

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