SACC Statement on the Prosecution of Silan Ozcelik

Statement by SACC, 15 March 2015.

SACC is extremely concerned over the news that terrorism charges have been brought against an 18 year-old Kurdish woman, Silan Ozcelik. We fear a new wave of persecution against Kurdish people who attempt to act in solidarity with Kurdish communities in Syria and Turkey.

Kurdish people have on a number of occasions in recent years suffered harassment and arrest at the hands of British police when attempting to travel overseas.

Silan Ozcelik appeared in court in London yesterday, charged with "Engaging in conduct in preparation for giving effect to an intention to commit acts of terrorism contrary to section 5 (1) (a) of the Terrorism Act 2006."

She has been sent to Holloway Prison on remand.

Silan's supporters say that she has never committed any act of violence and poses no threat to the people of Britain.

According to press reports, Silan is accused of travelling to Brussels in October last year in order to join the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and participate in the fight against ISIS in Syria.

The PKK is proscribed as a "terrorist" group in Britain. The Kurdish YPG militia and its female counterpart the YPJ are affiliated to the PKK, but are not banned in Britain. These militias have been involved in fighting ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq, and were in de facto alliance with US and British forces in the struggle for Kobane.

The YPG and YPJ have been lionised in some quarters for their successful struggle against ISIS. But the real strategic threat to the Kurdish areas of northern Syria (Rojava) comes not from ISIS, but from Britain's ally, Turkey. This is not because of the Islamic orientation of Turkey's present government, but because of Turkey's long-standing hostility, under governments of various complexions, to Kurdish self-determination.

Kurdish resistance to ISIS has become a propaganda asset to the US and Britain in their war against ISIS, but is at the same time an impediment to their effective cooperation with Turkey in prosecuting the war. The result is the continuation of a century of British double-dealing in its relationship with the people of Kurdistan. The international community has so far denied Rojava the recognition that could help provide a just and transparent path towards peace.

The Rojava revolution has from the outset been a semi-detached part of the Syrian revolution, kept at a slight distance from it by the alignment of Kurdish political movements in Rojava with the PKK, and by the sympathy shown to other sections of the Syrian revolution by Turkey.

SACC has long campaigned for the PKK to be removed from Britain's list of banned organisations. It represents the legitimate aspirations of many Kurdish people and poses no threat to Britain. Its criminalisation in Britain and elsewhere, out of deference to Turkish sensibilities, is an obstacle to any just and peaceful solution to Turkey's Kurdish question as well as to regional peace.

SACC believes that it should not be a crime to act in solidarity with liberation movements overseas. Nor should it automatically be a crime to serve with armed groups overseas, except where this involves the commission of specific actions banned under international humanitarian law or international human rights law.

Until a few years ago the UK authorities tended to avoid prosecuting people for military service with overseas forces, whether regular or irregular. The applicable laws were unclear and untested, and the authorities appeared to recognise that prosecutions were likely to be weighed down with unmanageable political complications.

SACC acknowledges the right, especially as recognised in international law, of oppressed people to resist oppression with armed force where necessary. We do not particularly commend the enlistment of individuals from overseas in such forces as a useful form of international solidarity. Aside from the personal risks (both physical and legal), military support can easily turn out to be counter-productive by triggering destructive responses from states that have stakes in the conflict.

The overwhelming majority of casualties in Syria occur as result of the conflict between the Assad regime and anti-regime forces, and the associated large-scale killing of civilians by the regime. However, the trend that has seen people travelling from Britain to Syria in order to defend the Syrian revolution from the Assad regime, is now leading people to travel to Syria to join groups whose conflict with one another is at least as sharp as their conflict with the regime.

This is a consequence of the destructive and divisive tendencies launched and cultivated by US and British occupying forces in Iraq in 2003-2011, and of the international powerplay that has developed around events in Syria since 2011.

The problem has been aggravated by sections of the UK media who have glamorised the war against ISIS in ways that invite comparison with the work of ISIS propagandists. No doubt this is intended to counter the public distaste for war so lamented by British generals. A side-effect has been to encourage participation in irregular warfare.

We reject any suggestion that an attempt at even-handedly stuffing people into jail will ease the community or international tensions that might result from these developments. The British government is itself a player in Syria, and is most probably playing a complicated hand. It would be a very tall order for any British court to dispense justice under these circumstances.

We call for Silan’s immediate release, for the PKK to be removed from the terrorism list, and for an end to the politically motivated prosecution of people involved in events in Syria except where they are suspected of violating international human rights norms. We are opposed to any British military intervention in Syria and we call for a halt to British military intervention in Iraq. British and US intervention in the region will inevitably worsen the situation, as it has in the past.