The Kurdish Member of Partliament, Leyla Zana, has been sentenced to ten years in prison in absentia by a Diyarbekir Court on the grounds of “membership of a separatist group and propaganda” for it as well as in support of the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan. Her lawyer has lodged an appeal.
Since coming out of prison in 2004, following her condemnation in 1994, along with several other DEP members of Parliament, for “membership of an armed group” (the PKK), Leyla Zana has been sentenced to 2 years jail by the Diyarbekir 6th Criminal Court for a speech made during the 2007 celebrations of the Kurdish New Year, in which she stated that the 3 leaders of the Kurds were Jalal Talabani, Massud Barzani and Abdullah Ocalan.
O 24 May 2008, she had spoken at a seminar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, in which she had expressed support for the PKK and for Ocalan.
On the announcing of the sentence, the co-President of the Europe-Turkey Commission of the European Parliament, Hélène Flautre, expressed “deep concern” and considered that it was a blow against freedom of expression in Turkey: “As co-President of the joint EU-Turkey Parliamentary Commission and member of the Friends of Turkey, I want to express my deep concern following the sentencing, by the Diyarbekir Criminal Court, of Mrs Leyla Zana, a Member of the Turkish Parliament, holder of the 1995 Sakharov Prize for her struggle for freedom of thought.
She has thus been sentenced to ten years imprisonment for `propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation” on the basis of nine of her speeches.
On 1994, Leyla Zana had already been sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment tor similar remarks and released after ten years thanks to international pressure. In particular, she received the Sakharov Prize while in prison. Indeed, yesterday’s sentence is comparable to the one she received eight years earlier. So it proves that freedom of opinion is still threatened in Turkey by the Courts and the Penal Code.
This is why I am asking the Turkish government as well as the Turkish Parliament to take the necessary legislative measures to ensure that real freedom of opinion by guaranteeing fundamental freedoms by reforming the Anti-Terrorist Law and, consequently, clearing Leyla Zana of all charges”.
In France, the MRAP (Movement against Racism and for friendship between Peoples) issued a communiqué on 20 May in reaction to the news: “A Turkish Court has just sentenced the Member of Parliament Leyla Zana to 10 years imprisonment on the grounds of some speeches she made, one of which was made in the European Parliament. She is also charged with “propaganda for the Kurdish people’s party (PKK)”.
The MRAP recalls that Leyla Zana had already served 10 years in prison (1994-2004) and had received the Andrei Sakharov Human Rights Prize and had twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The MRAP expresses its indignation at this fresh sentencing of a woman who has always struggles for the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people: “It is part of a policy of repression of the Kurdish people: thousands of arrests, amongst which are elected representatives, lawyers, journalists women and children.
France and the European Parliament must intervene to demand the liberation of Leyla Zana and of the Kurdish and Turkish political prisoners”.
This sentence is part of a wide=spread legal repression that has put hundreds of Kurdish activists in the dock, with heavy sentences in the bargain. Thus on 17 May, the Erzurum Second Criminal Court sentenced 10 prisoners who were members of the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) to — a total of 170 years imprisonment.
These prisoners had been arrested on 11 January 2011, in the context of a dragnet against members of the KCK, in the districts of Beyazid (Dogubeyazit) and Agri. During the last hearing of their trial, attended by the lawyers and family members of the accused, their demand to be allowed to express themselves in Kurdish was refused.
Nine of the prisoners received sentences of between 20 and 20 years for being members of an illegal organisation, while Dogan Senses was sentenced to life imprisonment. The total of all these sentences is 170 years, while three of them are still due for trial on other charges.
Since 2009, 700 people have been arrested for membership of KCK, which is accused of being a PKK offshoot. The trials of KCK members began on 18 October 2010, with the trial of 152 Kurdish politicians and Human Rights activists. In all the wave of arrests, aimed at the KCK throughout the country has placed 7,748 people in detention and nearly 4,000 people have been arrested in the last 9 months according to estimates by the pro-Kurdish BDP party, dozens of whose officers and activists are still behind bars. During the latest dragnet, at least 507 people were taking into detention between 10 December and 3 January. Amongst them are local elected representatives, students, Human Rights activists, members of the KCK and even minors.
In March 2012, about 1,300 people were still in detention, including several hundreds arrested that very month. On 8 May 2012, 30 more people were taken into detention, still in the context of operations against the KCK. Moreover, despite reforms aimed at separating the cases of minors from “anti-terrorist” trials, heavy sentences are still being passed on young people. Thus a 17-year-old youth, accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation received a 20-year sentence following his trial in the 1st Minors’ Court at Mersin. The evidence accepted by the court seemed only to come from anonymous testimony and from document recover from Internet. In addition to his prison sentence, the accused has to pay a fine of 12,000 Turkish lira (about 5,250 euros) according to the Firat News press agency.
He had been arrested during a police raid on his family home on 11 December 2011 and the prosecution had originally demanded a 40-year sentence. There were a multitude of charges against him: going to unauthorised meeting and demonstrations, assemblies, propaganda for an illegal organisation, resisting the police and being in possession of explosive substances. The young lad denied the charges but the Court based its finding on secret evidence, prints from Internet and the statements of police officers.
In this very ominous political and legal situation, the Speaker of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz, visited Istanbul on 31 May and once again, pointed out the connection between the solution to the Kurdish question and Turkey’s application for membership of the European Union. Speaking during a ceremony taking place at Bilgi University, in which he received a Doctorate honoris causa, he said:
“I am giving this advice in the context of Turkey’s strategy for membership of the E.U. — we must try to convince the two parties that it is possible (to create something) in between a sovereign State and a region with a high degree of autonomy even while maintaining Turkish territorial integrity. This is just my humble advice”.
Recognising that the Kurdish question was “Turkey’s internal problem”, Martin Schultz nevertheless pointed out that the European Union was concerned about the recognition and the rights of minorities in its member countries. He recalled that he had been faced with the Kurdish problem for the first time twenty years earlier, when he was just a socialist mayor in Germany:
“In the early 80s, I saw a great number of refugees coming from Kurdistan who arrived in my town and I was immediately faced with the problem of these refugees, many of whom were Turkish citizens. About half of these considered themselves Kurdish and the other half Turkish. This became my reality. So the first part of the answer I offer you is that there really is a Kurdish question”. Martin Schultz also raised the Iraqi situation and praised the success of the Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan:
“You know that the North of Iraq has an autonomous Kurdish government. Mr. Barzani is a regional leader of Kurdish origin who considers himself a Kurdish leader. This is not a problem… for Turkey, nor, in our eyes, is it a problem for Iraq”.
On 14 May 2012, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated that he had recorded 2,171 Syrian Kurdish refugees in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. Just in Duhok region the number of people crossing the border daily was between 10 and 15 families or 50 to 65 individuals. Every week, four or five families and about twenty individuals contacted the UNHCR offices in Irbil.
In Suleimaniah, they had recorded 95 refugees, including five families. Other refugees were waiting at the border for a change to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan according to a UNHCR report, published in the US paper International Business Times.
The report stressed that the Kurdistan Region authorities were expecting to receive further waves of refugees as violence escalated in Syria. Indeed, the majority of refugees arriving in Iraq were seeking to settle in the Kurdish Region.
“The movement of tens of thousands of people t Kurdistan is an important turning point from the political geographic and economic equation governing the region (…) This region, which has been a major source of dispute between the Kurds and the central authorities over the last decades, has become, today, an ideal refuge not only for people displaced from Syria but also for the Kurds fleeing Iran and Turkey”.
Saad al-Jabbouri, a economics research worker living in the Netherlands, explains: “The Commission thinks that the Kurdistan Region, as compared with other countries that are receiving refugees, like Jordan, which suffers from a great shortage of resources, can welcome displaced persons in conditions of security, economic stability and prosperity. The majority of these displaced persons, and especially the Kurds, prefer to seek refuge there”.
Thus, in HCR’s eyes, Iraqi Kurdistan is the best possible choice for refugees, if the Kurdish authorities allow them to settle. This new attitude of the HCR must be seen in the light of the difficulties experienced in Jordan following the influx there of refugees from Iraq, where the lack of means as well as of water — each refugee needs 80 litres of water per day, which is a heavy financial burden for the Jordan government.
A Kurd, who has recently reached Holland, confirms, on the AKNews site, that most of his tribe has emigrated to Iraqi Kurdistan: “Most of the refugees prefer to go there because of its greater security and the good treatment they receive such as the social services provided. In this region, refugees do not suffer, as elsewhere like Jordan and Turkey, from lack of water or medical care. Kurds who arrive in Kurdistan have felt the great difference between conditions in the Region and in Syria, where they lived in conditions of extreme poverty compared with life in Kurdistan”.
Since 2011, a total of 20,0000 Syrian refugees have been registered in the Kurdish region by the HCR, according to Eve McDonnell. Responsible for external relations: “There are plans for setting up some projects with rapid results, in cooperation with the Region’s authorities, especially if, as seems highly probable, the crisis lasts much longer”.
Quite apart from the Syrian conflict, Iraqi Kurdistan seems a model of economic development and is attracting foreign investments. Thus, in addition to Kurdish activists or deserting soldiers fleeing reprisals, Kurds are entering the Region illegally, in search of work. Some refugees, who have reached Europe, are even considering returning to Iraqi Kurdistan where other family members are living. This is the case with Barakat Jalal, questioned by AKNews: having found refuge in the Netherlands, he is planning to leave for the Domiz refugee camp, in Duhok Province, where relations are now living, once his case has been approved by the HCR and the local authorities.
The Domiz camp “has indeed, been organised to meet the primal needs of the refugees, be they for food, medical care. However, faced with the influx of displaced persons, hygienic and sanitary problems are arising. The HCR is also trying to involve the children in various activities, scholastic and extra-scholastic, inside the camp.
Elsewhere, as in Irbil, the refugees are more or less left to their own resources or else live with members of their family already settled in Kurdistan, or acquaintances. Here they receive no specific aid, so many of them are still waiting to be registered by the HCR.
It should be noted that the Iraqi Federal Government has rejected any responsibility for the influx of refugees from Syria and that, apart from the HCR and the Kurdish government, the displaced persons in Iraq can only expect some help from charitable organisations or private initiatives. Thus, on 3 May, Barzani distributed some food rations to 292 families, each of which received 25 Kgr rice, 10 Kgr of sugar, 10 Kgr of vegetables, 5 litres of oil, 5 tins of tomato sauce, 4 sacks of vermicelli and a Kgr of meat.
On 23 May, Mostafa Armin, Mose Hatefi, Saeed Drait and Ali Marhamati, four Iranian Kurds from the town of Maku (Western Azerbaijan) were sentenced to a total of 46 years imprisonment and banishment by the Khoy Revolutionary Court for “collaboration with Iranian opposition parties” according to the Kurdpa agency. A fifth prisoner, Vali Balkhany, was also due to appear in the dock but he died under torture a few days before the sentence was passed. It had been planned that he, like Mosttafa Armin (who, however, survived) would be sentenced to 15 years and 6 months deportation in Barazian Prison. Saeed Drait and Ali Marhamati received four years each.
Another Kurd, Muhamad Sediq Kaboudvand, a journalist and a Human Rights activist, who has been imprisoned for several years already, has also started a hunger strike, this time because to be allowed to visit his sick child.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran announced on 26 May that Muhammad Sediq Kaboudvand had begun his hunger strike. His wife, Parinaz Hosseiny, reported that it was during her last visit, on 20 May that she was informed by the prison authorities that her husband was refusing all food until he was allowed to visit his son. He had already begun a hunger strike earlier in the month for the same reason. He had then been promised the official promise that he would enjoy special permission for this if he started eating again. According to Parinaz Hosseiny, the authorities then demanded that he write a letter of repentance but he refused, insisting that he had not committed any offence.
Muhammad Kabouvand suffers from health problems and is said to need a surgical operation but the prison authorities have refused him any access to treatment or transfer to hospital.
Parinaz Hosseiny pointed out that her son also suffered from a serious illness and that the doctors considered that the presence of his father could help improve his reaction to treatment: “so I asked the authorities to observe their own laws and grant my husband this permission, which is a right in any Iranian prison”.
Muhamad Sediq Kabouvand was arrested 5 years ago and accused of activity against nation security. He has, in fact, founded the Kurdistan Human Rights Defence Organisation. He also directed the publication of a bi-lingual Kurdish-Persian weekly “Payam-e Mardom”, banned in 2006. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for “propaganda against the regime”.
Since 3 May was International Press Freedom Day, the spokesman of the US State Department called on the Iranian Government to release Muhamad Sediq Kabouvand as well as 90 other journalists at present being detained in Iran.
Finally in Sine (Sanandaj), the capital of Kurdistan Province, Anwar Hossein Panahi, a Kurdish political prisoner initially sentenced to hanging, whose sentence had been commuted to 16 years imprisonment, has now been 5 years behind bars and all requests form a short leave have been refused.
Anwar Hossein Panahi, a Kurdish political activist, was arrested on 5 November 2007 and detained for 6 months in the premises of secret services, the Chorvech. He had been tortured and had several of his ribs broken.
The Revolutionary Court had sentenced him to death for attacking national security and as an “enemy of God” — a crime that caries an automatic death sentence. He had appealed and finally received 16 years jail. According to his lawyer, no evidence was put forward nor was there any confession to back the charges.
In these last five years, Anwar Hossein Panahi, who suffers from a stomach and intestinal infection, has only had a single 0ne-hour hospital examination whereas the doctors considered that his condition required a much longer stay.
In the same case, Anwar’s brother, Afshin Hossein Panahi, who had been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment has just been released while another brother Ashraf Hossein Panahi has died in suspicious circumstances. The whole family seems to be suffering from serious pressure and threats from the security forces and about thirty people related to them have been arrested and imprisoned since, while others have been sent into exile and forbidden to contact their relations.
Amjad Hossein Panahim one of Anwar’s brothers told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran team that his brother had undergone 6 months of physical and psychological torture immediately after his arrest. Although he was suffering from broken ribs and kidney infection, he had been tied to a fence in the prison courtyard at the height of winter until the cold and pain made him lose consciousness. “Throughout this period our family was kept in the most complete ignorance of either the reasons for his arrest although we repeatedly went to see the judicial authorities”.
Another brother, Ashraf Hossein Panahi, had started to collect evidence of Anwar’s innocence. He had collected 5,000 signatures in his support from respected and trustworthy people in the region. He even wanted to take them all to the judicial authorities in Teheran, but he had been mysteriously assassinated on his way and his body found by people from in a neighbouring village, who had seen an unknown vehicle in the area. The autopsy concluded that a blunt object that fractured his skull had caused death.
“After Ashraf’s death, my young brother Afshin tried to continue his action but he was also arrested and tortured while in detention at Ghorveh. He was only 19 years old and lost 50% of his vision. He has been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment.
Our home has been inspected once, even twice a week, all our communications such as phone calls are tapped and the movement of members of our family are watched so that it is impossible for them to contact us”.
Speaking more generally about the condition of Kurdish prisoners in Iran, Amjad Hossein Panahi explains that many of them have no lawyers through lack of financial means and so are deprived of their right to defence. Even those to accept a lawyer appointed by the court still have problems since most of these lawyers collaborate with the secret services.
The Kurdish film director L. Rêzan Yezilbaş won a Golden Palm for short-length films at the Cannes Film Festival for his film “Sessiz- Bê Deng” (Silence).
The scene of this short film is set in Diyarbekir, in 1984. Zeynep, a mother of three children, wants to visit her husband, who is in prison. She can only speak Kurdish, her native tongue, but this is strictly forbidden in official premises like the prison. Not knowing any Turkish, she finds herself unable to say a single word. Her frustration is intensified when she is also forbidden to bring her husband a new pair of shoes.
“Diyarbekir Prison is the symbol of the torture of the whole prison system in the period following the Army’s 1980 coup d’état”. Rêzan Yesilbaş explains. “But instead of describing the inside of the prison, that is the political detainees, their torture or their struggles and convictions I chose to direct my camera onto the little daily experiences of the women outside, and the silence imposed on them since the use of Kurdish, the only language they know, was strictly forbidden in prisons at that time”.
Born in 1977, Rêzan Yezilbaş received a degree in filmmaking at Marmara University in 2008. His short film “Hukum” (Sentence) was the first of his “Feminine Trilogy”, and has been shown at several international film festivals. Sessiz-Bê Deng,the second of the trilogy was filmed in 2011 and the scenario of the third has already been written.