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Kurds and unions victims of Turkish state repression

While the media is full of reports of the arrest of alleged coup plotters in Turkey, the military top brass will be reassured by the continuing state repression of not only the Kurdish minority but also the harsh treatment meted out to their legal representatives.

On Christmas eve, there was the mass arrest of some 80 leading members of the new Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The action followed the banning of the popular pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) by Turkey’s Constitutional Court. Those detained are all former pro-Kurdish deputies or mayors.

Earlier this year, a 15-year-old girl, a Turkish Kurd, named Berivan, was jailed in Turkey for nearly eight years – reduced on appeal from thirteen and a half years – after being convicted of "terrorist" offences. She was arrested at a demonstration in the south-eastern city of Batman in October 2009.

She was found guilty of "crimes on behalf of an illegal organisation" after prosecutors alleged she had hurled stones and shouted slogans. She was also convicted of attending "meetings and demonstrations in opposition to the law" and "spreading propaganda for an illegal organisation".

According to the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, under counter-terrorism legislation introduced in 2006, Turkey has been trying juveniles as adults, and jailing them for up to 50 years. Recent official figures have revealed that there are currently 2,622 minors in Turkish prisons. According to the Diyarbakir Human Rights Association, some 737 minors have been charged under the counter-terrorism legislation since its introduction.

Between 1959 and 2009, Turkey was the worst violator of the European Convention on Human Rights, with almost 19% of all violations, and 2,295 judgements issued against it. Turkey also had the highest proportion of violations in 2009, with 347 out of 1,625 negative rulings. The right most commonly violated was the right to a fair trial. Turkey was also condemned in 30 cases of inhumane or degrading treatment.

Then this month came the news that the lawyers, Irfan Dündar and Firat Aydinkaya, who act on behalf of imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, have been sentenced in Istanbul for "spreading propaganda for a terror organisation". The Istanbul 10th High Criminal Court gave both lawyers prison sentences of ten months each, suspended for five years.

Ocalan's lawyers were sentenced because of the appearance of a newspaper article entitled "A chance for Öcalan" published in Özgür Gündem on 29 and 30 April 2009. The court stated that the article included phrases made by Dündar and Aydinkakya such as "The lawyers conveyed Öcalan's opinion on the developments within KONGRA-GEL [Kurdish national movement PKK]", "He is experiencing the pain of change" and "Öcalan's opinions are important for an enduring peace".

In a statement, the Haldane Society said: “Informed by the findings of a number of its members who participated in an International Delegation to Turkey in February 2008, the Haldane Society firmly believes that the sentence reflects the intolerable conditions under which lawyers acting for the Kurdish leader have been subject since his apprehension in 1999 and the subsequent trial.

Unfortunately, it is nothing new for not only have they been subjected to various forms of harassment and intimidation while performing their normal professional duties and seeking to represent their client, they have been treated as terror suspects themselves. The fact is that Turkish law as presently constituted permits such charges to be routinely brought against lawyers simply for putting across the case of their client.

In a past period, British trade unions and human rights organisations campaigned against taking holidays in Spain when it was under the Franco dictatorship. It’s about time this tradition was resurrected in relation to Turkey and not just because of the persecution of the Kurds. On 7 December, virtually the entire executive committee as well as some local branch office officials of Nakliyat-Is, a trade union which organises transport workers, were arrested and the union headquarters raided. What is the Trades Union Congress waiting for?

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
26 February 2010

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