L'actualité avec l'AP

Four Kurdish deputies sentenced again
to 15 years by the Turkish justice

AP, April 21, 2004

A Turkish court convicted Kurdish rights advocate Leyla Zana and three other former Kurdish lawmakers of having links to rebels in their retrial Wednesday, ordering the four to serve the remainder of their 15-year prison sentences. The four, who have already served 10 years in prison,
would be eligible for release in 2005.

The ruling — although widely expected — could be a setback for Turkey's hopes to start European Union membership negotiations next year.

Several EU lawmakers who have been observing the yearlong retrial as a test of improvements in Turkish human rights and the judicial system have said the court was biased and violated the defendants' rights to a fair trial.

Luigi Vinci, a member of the EU parliament who attended Wednesday's trial, expressed anger and disappointment.

"It is a disgrace. This is an insult to the European Union, which is asking Turkey to be more democratic," Vinci said. "This is an insult to the European Court of Human Rights."

The retrial was held after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2001 that Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak did not get a fair hearing in their first trial in 1994.

Critics argued that the retrial was not fair, either.

"Unfortunately, we're not satisfied that there has been a fair trial in this retrial," said Stuart Kerr, a representative of the International Commission of Jurists, based in Switzerland.

Lawyer Yusuf Alatas immediately applied for an appeal in a higher Turkish court and said he would also file another appeal in the European court.

None of the defendants was present at the hearing. The four decided last month to shun the retrial, claiming they were not allowed a fair hearing.

"The court did not surprise us today," Alatas said. "Our clients had already lost faith in the retrial process and refused to show up in the last three hearings."

Throughout the retrial, the court had repeatedly refused to release the defendants without offering a reason and judges on occasion referred to the defendants as "the convicted" in what international observers said was a violation of the presumption of innocence.

"It seems ridiculous to us that people can go through a fresh trial by being referred to as convicted throughout," Kerr said.

The EU, which will decide by the end of the year whether to start negotiations on Turkish membership, has said Turkey must improve its human rights record before it can join the bloc.

With time off for good conduct, Zana, Dicle and Dogan could be eligible for release in March 2005 and Sadak in October 2005.

The defendants were found guilty of ties to Kurdish rebels who fought a 15-year war for autonomy in southeast Turkey.

The four were arrested in 1994 and stripped of their parliamentary immunity.

Zana, 43, has advocated nonviolent tactics to push for increased rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority.

When taking the oath in parliament in 1991, she wore a hair band in the traditional Kurdish colors of yellow, green and red — used by the Kurdish rebels on their banners — and spoke Kurdish in breach of a ban on speaking the language in official settings. Her action incensed other legislators, who accused her of collaborating with the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK.

Zana's pro-Kurdish Democracy Party was later banned by the Turkish courts.

Since Zana's arrest, Turkey has changed laws to allow broadcasts and education in the Kurdish language. But the reforms have yet to be fully implemented.