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Trial of Kurdish politicians postponed

Press Release fro the Peace in Kurdistan,
29 November 2010

Trial of Kurdish politicians postponed until 13 January 2011

Peace in Kurdistan condemns the decision of the court to postpone the ongoing trial of 151 Kurdish politicians and human rights defenders to 13 January 2011. The decision was taken on 11 November 2010 following an impasse resulting from the suspects’ insistence on delivering their defences in their native language, Kurdish, a request the prosecution has continuously refused.

In the course of the trial, suspects who insisted on delivering their defences and responding to the judge's questions in Kurdish were repeatedly silenced; the prosecution has even characterized Kurdish as an 'unknown language.' In response, Emin Aktar, chair of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, remarked that the ruling AKP had previously declared 'zero tolerance' for torture, and that 'zero tolerance for Kurdish' was now being applied. Defence attorney and BDP vice co-chairwoman Meral Danis-Bestas characterized the proceedings as 'putting Kurds and Kurdish on trial.'

Meanwhile, Ankara University Professor Baskin Oran, one of Turkey's leading legal minds and authorities on minority rights, argued that the defendants' insistence on defending themselves in their mother tongue is consistent with the Treaty of Lausanne, the agreement that led to the creation of the Turkish republic and supersedes domestic Turkish law. The mother language controversy at the trial has once again underscored the political nature of the proceedings and exposed the Turkish state's hypocritical approach to this matter, as the deadlock continues even while a government-owned station broadcasts in Kurdish 24 hours a day.

The trial began in Diyarbakir on 18 October. Most of the court proceedings have been consumed by the judge’s insistence on reading a summary of the indictment against the suspects, a mammoth document spanning 7,587 pages. Individual defences were just beginning at the time the trial was delayed.

Most of those in the dock have been in pre-trial custody for extreme lengths of time, some as long as 19 months. These excessive periods of detention not only constitute a flagrant violation of the right to a speedy trial; they lack any logical basis, as none of the suspects are even accused of using violence or weapons. Instead, the “crimes” of the Kurdish politicians include participating in civil demonstrations, issuing press statements, criticizing state policies, participating in conferences and commissions, and other activities that politicians and human rights defenders routinely participate in everywhere in the world.

Peace in Kurdistan, which has long campaigned against the repression of Kurdish political activism in Turkey, supports the immediate release of all imprisoned Kurdish politicians and appeals to the Turkish government to initiate a comprehensive conflict resolution process involving all relevant political actors. The international community must exert constructive pressure in this regard. Otherwise, the Turkish state’s ongoing criminalization of peaceful political opposition threatens to further entrench the bloody conflict in Kurdistan.

As Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, recently noted, "When it comes to the Kurdish question, the courts in Turkey are all too quick to label political opposition as terrorism…When you close off the space for free speech and association, it has the counterproductive effect of making armed opposition more attractive."

It's as uncertain as ever what will happen when the trial resumes on 13 January 2011. Sections of the Turkish state are reportedly in sustained contact with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, and observers are hoping that this will turn into a sustained process of negotiation aimed at resolving the conflict. Turkey can help the process along by immediately releasing the Kurdish politicians and cancelling the trial.