In Turkey there was a period of hope for democracy and human rights, which ended last December 24th when over a hundred Kurdish politicians, NGO workers, and civil society leaders were arrested. During the summer I had met with Muharrem Erbey, head of the Diyarbakir Human Rights Association. Mr. Erbey outlined for me that in spite of the AKP government's "Kurdish Opening" there had been more cases of prosecution for the use of the Kurdish language than ever. Muharrem Erbey was one of those taken in the middle of the night on December 24th and he is still in prison.
Every day in the paper there are three or four cases of people being punished for speaking or writing in Kurdish, as well as "crimes of thought and speech" which the Turkish government labels "Making propaganda for a terrorist organization".
The Kurdish language newspaper Azadiya Welat has undergone significant pressures in recent months. Last week one of its journalists was found hung to death in Adana, and seizures of the newspaper as well as prosecution and imprisonment of its writers continues:
Journalist Detained for Speaking Kurdish at Court
The 4th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır in the predominantly Kurdish region of south-eastern Turkey arrested Mehdi Tanrıkulu, editor of the Azadiya Welat newspaper publishing in Kurdish, because he insisted on making his defense in a press case pending against him in Kurdish.
Journalist Tanrıkulu stands accused of "spreading propaganda for an illegal organization" based on an article published in the Kurdish daily on 23 January 2010. In his article, Tanrıkulu had described imprisoned leader of the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Adullah Öcalan as the "Leader of the Kurdish People". Moreover, he referred to the PKK as the "Kurdish Freedom Movement".
"You know Turkish, you cannot defend yourself in Kurdish"
The prosecutor demanded a two-count prison sentence for Tanrıkulu of a total of two to ten years according to article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMY) (law no. 3713) on propaganda for illegal organizations. Un-detained defendant Tanrıkulu attended the latest hearing together with his lawyer Servet Özen.
After having finished the formalities, the journalist told the court that he requested to make his defence in Kurdish. However, the court ruled out the possibility of a defence in Kurdish by emphasizing that the defendant is familiar with the Turkish language.
Right to silence?
Lawyer Özen pointed out the legal basis for his client's request. The prosecutor demanded to dismiss the request since Tanrıkulu knows Turkish. Hereupon, the court decreed that the defense would have to be made in Turkish.
Tanrıkulu insisted on his request and referred to the fact that Turkey is a part of the Treaty of Lausanne which grants the right to make his defense in Kurdish. However, the court interpreted Tanrıkulu's insistence on a Kurdish defense as his refraining from his right to defence and registered that the defendant made use of his right to silence.
Last summer I visited the offices of Azadiya Welat in Diyarbakir. There is a long hallway lined with photographs of all journalists and newspapers workers, even young boys who distribute the paper, who have been murdered by state "security" forces over the years. Metin Alataş, who worked distributing the paper in Adana was just 34. He is the latest victim of Turkish state terrorism.
Major Doubts about Journalist's Death Brought to Parliament
Sevahir Bayındır, MP of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in Şırnak (south-eastern Turkey), brought the suspicious death of Metin Alataş to parliament. The body of 34-year-old Alataş, distributor of the Kurdish Azadiya Welat newspaper, was found hung in a tree in Adana (south-eastern Turkey) on 4 April.
Bayındır submitted an inquiry to the parliament which is to be answered by Minister of the Interior Beşir Atalay. The BDP MP asked whether any investigation has been launched into crimes committed against media professionals.
Journalist Boltan: Alataş was threatened
Alataş had distributed copies of the Azadiya Welat daily on 3 April. He left the district at around 2.00 pm and was not seen nor heard of afterwards. On the following day, his body was found hung in a tree in the Hadırlı district of Adana. The preliminary autopsy report stated strangulation as the reason of death. The final report from the Forensic Medicine Institute will be issued in about two months time.
Alataş's body was laid to rest in the Karasu quarter of the Seyhan district in Adana. His family held a memorial service in the Gülbahçe quarter on 7 April.
Hakkı Boltan, diplomacy service editor of Azadiya Welat, told bianet that the investigation has not revealed any new findings yet. However, Boltan said that the newspaper employees and Alataş's family members and friends more and more come to the conclusion that this was not an ordinary suicide. The journalist reasoned this opinion as follows:
"When Alataş was found dead, the prosecution did not contact his family first, but the printing house of the newspaper in Adana. Two days prior to the incident, his bicycle was stolen. In the recent past, Alataş had told his colleagues, 'They are observing and threatening me. Something might happen'. No ID was found with the dead body. These are reasons why we have doubts about some things he experienced before his death. None of his family members and friends nor anybody who has spend 24 hours together with him believes he committed suicide"
Nobody believes strangulation-theory
Atalaş's older brother Servet Alataş told the DİHA News Agency, "My brother was not killed by unknown perpetrators. The perpetrators are known. We want the incident to be brought to light as soon as possible".
Newspaper officials reported that Alataş had been subject of an assault four months earlier. Five unidentified people approached him in a car with an Adana number plate and attacked Atalaş when he distributed newspaper copies in front of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) building on 22 December 2009.
Newspaper representative Ali Kalik said at Alataş's funeral that this attack remained unpunished, "The investigation was closed even though the car's number plate was known".
Bayındır asked Minister Atalay in his inquiry whether any action was taken regarding a supposed connection of both incidents and if yes, which results came out of that.
Questions of the inquiry
Which institutions did Metin Alataş complain about, when and for what reasons? Were any precautions taken after his application? If yes, what measures were taken exactly?
How many press employees have been taken into custody between 2007 and 2010? What were the reasons?
Has any investigation been launched on behalf of the ministry related to crimes committed against press professionals? (EÖ/VK)
At the end of March another one of Azadiya Welat's editors was sentenced to prison:
Turkey jails Kurdish editor for 3 years
A Turkish court jailed the former editor of a Kurdish-language newspaper for three years today for spreading terrorist propaganda, in a case that may renew concern about press freedom in the EU candidate country.
Vedat Kursun, who faces a combined sentence of 525 years in prison in 103 cases on similar charges, was convicted in connection with two stories that appeared in the daily in August 2007, the state-run Anatolian news agency said.
Mr Kursun was editor-in-chief at Azadiya Welat until he was jailed more than a year ago for disseminating propaganda on behalf of the illegal Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Emin Yildirim, an editor at the newspaper, said.
The paper has replaced its top editor six times since 2006 because they have been jailed or fled the country to avoid imprisonment, Yildirim said, estimating that prosecutors have opened 200 or more cases against the five former editors.
The newspaper also faces regular temporary bans, including a month-long closure ordered this week, he said.
The European Union has called on prime minister Tayyip Erdogan to improve press freedom in Turkey to meet the political criteria for membership of the bloc.
The government has promised to expand Kurdish cultural and political rights in a bid to end a 25-year conflict with PKK insurgents demanding autonomy that has claimed 40,000 lives.
Mr Kursun told the penal court in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the majority Kurdish southeast, that the news stories were not meant as propaganda, Anatolian reported.
The same court sentenced Mr Kursun's successor Ozan Kilinc to 21 years in prison on February 11th for printing what it called Kurdish rebel propaganda.
The same week, four Kurdish politicians are being tried for the crime of speaking to their constituents in their own language: Kurdish. Read the whole story at Bianet.com
Four Politicians on Trial for Speaking Kurdish
Hakkari Mayor Fadıl Bedirhanoğlu, former mayor Kazım Kurt and officials of closed Democratic Society Party Fahri Kurt and Rahmi Temel stand trial for addressing their electorate in Kurdish in the run-up to the 2009 local elections.
I could go on and on listing the cases of imprisonment, lynchings, children jailed for throwing stones (not just the 15 year old Berivan, who was sentanced to 8 years, but many more). I'd like to close by quoting this article by CENGİZ ÇANDAR:
Many mayor and hundreds of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, members are in prison as a result of the “KCK operations.” They are waiting for the day to be put before judges. A Kurdish-Turkish singer Rojda is sentenced for “making propaganda of a terrorist organization.” The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, members who came through the Habur border gate in October 2009 are now the target of investigations that could put them behind bars for years.
Eight PKK members coming from Kandil and 22 from the Makhmour Camp in northern Iraq could face charges up to 20 and 15 years in prison respectively. If they hadn’t move out from Kandil and Makhmour and entered Turkey, they couldn’t have faced imprisonment. Those who invited the PKK militants naturally think that they made a mistake.
In the meantime, we hear that in some certain regions military concentration continues as preparations are underway for an “operation.” In fact, the BDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş speaking at a parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday said that troop and munitions deployment has already started in the Cudi Mountain region. Demirtaş added that if the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, orchestrates a military operation in such a critical period all BDP deputies will go to the region and stand against tanks in order to stop young people killing each other.
Can you imagine the image of a country where deputies stand as a “human shield” against the armed forces?
The following photos come from the excellent blog UNITED STATES OF KURDISTAN They are pictures of Kurdish children in Turkish prisons:
An article from European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) gives more information below:
[DIYARBAKIR, Southeastern Turkey, 6 December 2009] - Turkey is signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but that does not stop minors in the country's Kurdish dominated eastern and southeastern regions from ending up with stiff jail sentences.
In fact, after amendments were recently made to the country's anti-terror law, it is possible to charges children as terrorists and put them away for up to 50 years in jail.
According to official figures, there are currently 2,622 minors serving time in Turkish prisons. Earlier this week officials admitted that the figure was rising.
Lawyer Canan Atabay who represents the Diyarbakir Bar Association at the European Union and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and is also a member of the Justice for Children Initiative (JCI) that has opposed indiscriminate arrests and sentencing of children for the last three years believes that the law targets Kurdish children.
According to figures maintained by the JCI there are currently no fewer than 3,000 children being held in Turkish prisons. ‘'Almost all of them are Kurdish,’’ Atabay told IPS.
Turkey's crackdown on children began in the aftermath of the 2006 street riots in Diyarbakir, a predominantly Kurdish city where support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is struggling for the rights of Kurdish citizens runs high.
In 2006, after the public funeral of 14 PKK members who were allegedly killed with chemical weapons, clashes between demonstrators and security forces broke out.
After the initial comment of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that ‘'whether men, women or children, the security forces will react with disproportionate force’', in the four days of riots ten people, five of them children, were shot by police arms. One child's skull was crushed by security forces.
Two months after the riots, Turkey's Supreme Court ruled that the 2005 anti-terror law could now be applied to children in the 15 - 18 age group. From then on they can be tried in Heavy Penal Courts which are authorised to try cases of organised crime, terrorism and state security.
In 2006, the Supreme Court also changed its interpretation of the anti-terror law: whenever somebody is involved in a demonstration, carries a flag or does any other kind of propaganda for an illegal organisation, he or she is considered to be part of this organisation and defined as a 'terrorist'.
‘’After the events of 2006, the state adopted a different perspective towards children,’’ says Diyarbakir lawyer Kezban Yilmaz. ‘’Putting a child into prison and preventing interaction with the family has the effect of making the family collapse,’’ she told IPS. ‘’The target of this repression is Kurdish society as a whole, the goal is to obstruct the democratic demands of the population.’'
‘'A child who is arrested in Istanbul for taking part in a demonstration will be tried according to the laws on demonstrations and public meetings,’’ says Kezban who is also the spokeswoman for JCI. ‘’A child arrested in Diyarbakir will be tried according to the laws on demonstrations and public meetings and accused of propagandising for a terrorist organisation and being a member of this terrorist organisation.’'
Currently Kezban is handling the symbolic case of Engin Tekin, a 17-year-old facing 50 years imprisonment for taking part in a public demonstration. He was arrested last October and is charged with seven offences: throwing stones at the police, damaging private property, being member of a banned organisation, possessing explosive articles and using them.
'Different offences carry different sentences,’’ Kezban explains. ‘’Propagandising for a terrorist organisation equals three years of imprisonment, membership starts from seven years. When you add these up, for instance a child that joins the Kurdish new year celebrations and is arrested, is on average sentenced from 13 up to 28 years in prison.'’
But according to Kezban, currently there are children being arrested and sentenced for no more than giving the 'V' for victory sign, singing Kurdish songs, living near where a demonstration took place or accidentally passing through at the time of the demonstration. '’They are being arrested in an indiscriminate way,’’ she told IPS.
The arrested children are mostly sentenced on the basis of police testimonies and video footage. Only one percent of all prosecuted children get acquitted.
Of the 60 cases Canan has handled since 2008, charges were dropped on only one occasion when the judge did not find the police testimonies convincing and there was no video footage. '’Normally judges consider police testimonies to be sufficient proof to put the children away,’’ Canan tells IPS.
Besides, according to interviews and meetings conducted by JCI with jailed children, prison conditions are inhumane. It is not uncommon to find bugs or glass in the food, there is no access to fresh air in the cells and children are verbally insulted by the prison personnel as they are considered to be terrorists.
While there are no cases on record of physical violence in Diyarbakir, in Adana a city more to the south, there is evidence of torture used against children.
Although 90 per cent of children in jail are students, authorities interfere with parents trying to bring them course material. There is insufficient medical staff and the procedure for hospitalisation in case of serious illness is too complex and often denied.
Children brought to courthouse for the trial are often made to stay from nine in the morning until ten in the evening often with no provision for food. Sometimes they are given tomatoes or bread with chocolate spread.
As a reaction to a report drafted by the JCI earlier this year, the U.N. Children’s Rights Committee presented 14 questions to the Turkish government on the jailing of youth under the age of 18 for terrorist activities. On Oct. 2, government spokesperson Cemil Çiçek proposed three amendments to the law which are now being discussed in parliament.
Articles which allow the punishing of children by equating throwing stones with armed resistance, increased penalties under anti-terror laws or convicting children for being related to a member of a banned organisation are not being debated.
‘'Other proposed amendments by the government are simply impossible for practical reasons,’’ says Atabay. ‘’For instance, the government proposed trying children aged 15 to 18 in juvenile courts, but only 15 cities out of Turkey’s 81 have such courts. Where there is no juvenile court, they will continue to be tried and sentenced in an ordinary court.'’
'’The amendments do not change the government's right to sentence children to long prison terms. It must be made impossible to put children into prison. It is not a school,’’ Atabay said.
Organisation Contact Details:
IPS - Inter Press Service
Last updated 07/12/2009 07:51:56