Jailed Kurdish children a blight on
YUKSEKOVA, Kurdish Southeastern
region of Turkey, — Metin, a 16-year-old Kurdish boy
with a shy smile and small, vivacious eyes is
already a veteran of Turkey's prisons for terrorist
On his way to school one morning last year Metin,
who was 15 at the time, was detained by police in
this bleak town in Turkey's impoverished southeast,
and accused him of being a member of the PKK Kurdish
separatist rebel group.
Metin waited 5 months for a trial in a crowded
high-security prison where he shared a bed with two
or three other child inmates. He was then released
by a judge, only to be detained months later, this
time accused of taking part in a protest.
"They showed me a picture of somebody throwing
stones but it wasn't me. I have never taken part in
a protest," Metin said.
Kudret, mother of 17-year-old Velat (R in picture)
who has been in prison since March 2010, holds up a
picture of her son during an interview with Reuters
in Yuksekova, Hakkari province, southeastern Turkey,
on the border with Iraq, in this picture taken June
"The conditions were
very bad. It was freezing cold in winter and in
summer we couldn't take showers. Police were rough
and pressured us to confess we were supporters of
Hundreds of children -- some as young as 11,
according to Kurdish lawyers -- have been prosecuted
by Turkish authorities fighting Kurdish rebels in
the restless southeast. International human rights
groups say Turkey's anti-terrorist laws violate UN
conventions on children.
Activists say the children are sent to adult prisons
after receiving long sentences in anti-terrorist
courts, where files are secret and lawyers have
little access to their clients.
Metin, who has dropped out of school and wanders in
dusty, traffic-choked streets, considers himself
lucky to have been freed again. But he can still
serve up to 15 years if convicted in three pending
A GENERATION GROWING UP IN
"An entire generation is growing up in prison," said
Ismail Durgun, head of the Hakkari Bar Association,
which has defended many "stone-throwing children",
as they are known in Turkey.
"The state is not punishing the children, but is
punishing itself. When they enter prison they are
just kids. When they leave they are militants,"
Durdu Kavak, the chief prosecutor in Diyarbakir, the
largest city in the southeast and where most cases
are heard, told Reuters he was not authorised to
speak on the cases unless he received special
permission from the justice minister in Ankara.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government, which
has passed laws to expand the rights of Kurds in the
hope of ending a decades-long conflict with the PKK
(Kurdistan Workers Party), says such punishments
need to be changed.
A bill to reduce penalties for children accused of
terrorist-related offences and stipulating that
minors be put on trial in juvenile courts is being
debated in parliament.
"We do not want to lose our kids. We want to win
them back but families must be aware of the
consequences of their children's actions," Justice
Minister Sadullah Ergin said, repeating an official
line that children are used by the PKK.
Activists fear the bill might fall hostage to
nationalist passions after a recent upsurge in PKK
violence. With elections 12 months or less away and
public outcry over separatist violence growing,www.ekurd.netopposition
members have criticised the timing of the
legislation and debate has been tense.
NO FAIR TRIAL
Durgun said that merely attending a protest in
favour of the PKK is grounds for being charged with
belonging to the group and with spreading its
propaganda. The PKK is listed as a terrorist
organisation by Turkey, the European Union and
"These children don't get a fair trial. The files
are secret so we can't prepare the case and
sometimes there is no evidence. Children don't even
understand whey they are in prison," Durgun said.
The Kurdish children's story is a reminder of the
social and economic problems blighting Turkey's
southeast, long a hindrance to the Muslim nation's
hopes of joining the EU.
Unemployment in the provincial capital Hakkari,
where half its 256,000 people are below the age of
19, is 70 percent.
Resentment towards the state runs deep and violent
protests in favour of jailed PKK leader Abdullah
Ocalan are common.
Analysts say the authorities' approach is making the
problem worse by fostering young militants.
After being indoctrinated in prison by older
inmates, Dilges speaks earnestly of the Kurdish
struggle, amnesty and political rights, his braces
and acne betraying that he just turned 18.
He said he was handcuffed and hanged from a ceiling
to force him to confess to a PKK attack he said he
had nothing to do with.
Tough law enforcement helps to swell the ranks of
the PKK, seen by many local people as the defender
of Kurdish rights, as their hopes of a political
solution have faded.
Velat, a lanky 17-year-old boy with freckles, was
detained in March in the dead of night at his family
home, a dwelling of uneven walls and dirt floors.
Outside, hens strutted among barefoot children; a
military helicopter roared overhead.
"Police said he took part in a protest and took him
away," said Velat's mother, Kudret, fighting back
tears and cradling a picture of her son in the
"He is a good boy. He never got in trouble. He
didn't go to school because he has been working
since 10 to support his younger brothers and
sisters. His father is disabled."
The family moved to Yuksekova after being expelled
from their village by the military in the 1980s,
when hundreds of villages were evacuated during the
peak of PKK violence.
She said Velat is waiting trial in a prison 300 km
(180 miles) away from home. Unable to understand
Turkish, Kudret said she is at a loss to deal with
Turkey's labyrinthine legal system.
A neighbour said 32 youths recently left the town to
join the PKK across the border with Iraqi Kurdistan.
"They went to the mountains. The parents don't know.
What else can the kids do?"
PKK - Partiya Karkeren
Since 1984 the PKK [Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan] took up arms for self-rule in the
mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey
[Turkey-Kurdistan] which has claimed around 45,000
lives of Turkish soldiers and Kurdish PKK
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
A large Turkey's Kurdish community estimate to 25
million openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK
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
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