151 senior Kurdish politicians and lawyers on trial on 18 October in Diyarbakir

Appeal for international monitors to observe the trial!

As western politicians, including David Cameron, laud Turkey for its supposed democratic credentials, countless Kurds languish in Turkish prisons for non-violent political offences.  In the last year and a half, between 840 and 1,700 Kurdish political activists have been thrown in jail on ‘terror’ charges.  Most of those targeted are from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the leftist and pro-Kurdish political party that controls nearly 100 municipalities and has an influential group in parliament.

Notably, the arrest operations began on April 14, 2009 — two weeks after the BDP routed the ruling party in critical local elections, and one day after the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) declared a unilateral ceasefire in order to give peaceful politics a chance to resolve the conflict.

The detainees include 8 elected mayors from the BDP, former members of parliament, and some of the most talented and experienced leaders of the BDP and its youth and women’s branches.  Turkey claims they’re all part of the Democratic Communities of Kurdistan/Turkey Assembly (KCK/TM), described as the urban branch of the PKK.

151 of the most senior people targeted in the so-called ‘KCK operation’ are scheduled to go on trial in Diyarbakir on October 18.  A strong international presence at the trial can help ensure that this long series of injustices doesn’t end in the unjust imprisonment of innocent people who are being persecuted for their courageous efforts on behalf of democracy and human rights.  In this spirit, Peace in Kurdistan plans to send a delegation of observers to Diyarbakir between 17-21 October.

In addition to the popular mayor of Diyarbakir, Mr. Osman Baydemir, among those scheduled to go on trial for ‘membership of a terror organization’ on October 18 is Mr. Muharrem Erbey, the imprisoned vice chairman of Turkey’s largest human rights group, the Human Rights Association (IHD).  The evidence against him presented in the indictment includes his participation in a commission established by other leading lawyers and legal scholars to study Turkey’s constitution and develop proposals for democratic constitutional reform; his human rights work with the London-based NGOs and legal organisations; and numerous interviews he’s given to international media outlets.

In the indictment, the prosecutor writes the following about a January 2009 interview Mr. Erbey gave to Voice of America, in which he discussed the problem of impunity for torture and police brutality in Turkey: “It’s understood [from the interview] that Muharrem Erbey has aimed to put our country in a difficult position in international platforms by asserting that the state ignores the supposed maltreatment of Kurdish people carried out by police and soldiers in eastern provinces.”

Not only is it clear that Mr. Erbey is being targeted for his courageous work as a human rights defender; the prosecution is also trampling on the rights of internationals to hear critical viewpoints on the situation in southeastern Turkey.

American freelance journalist Jake Hess, who was recently deported as part of the KCK operation after reporting critically on human rights abuses against Kurds in Turkey, was asked extensively about his contacts with human rights organisations in London during his interrogation.  ‘Anti-terror’ police in Diyarbakir informed him that they know these organisations and their staff ‘well’ and that they ‘have sisters in London’ — meaning spies who monitor the activities of British citizens and legal organisations based in the UK.

These examples openly show that the Turkish government is trying to crush the solidarity links between Kurds and their international supporters.  The fact that legal groups are being monitored suggests that our modest work to support the Kurds and broaden the public’s understanding of human rights in Turkey is having an impact.

The outrageous criminalisation of our solidarity efforts demands a vigorous international response.  As Peace in Kurdistan, we’re proud of our efforts to stand with Kurds in their fight against the Turkish-EU-US campaign to crush their movement for democracy and human rights, and our support is now as necessary as it’s ever been as some of the most senior people targeted in the arrest operations go on trial October 18.

As noted above, we plan to organise a delegation to observe the trial in Diyarbakir from 17-21 October.  In addition to monitoring the trial, participants will have a chance to meet with human rights organizations in Diyarbakir and learn about current conditions on the ground first hand.

There’s a real threat that these scandalous arrests will conclude with equally scandalous prison sentences.  A strong international monitoring group at the trial can play an important role in preventing this alarmingly possible outcome.

HRW statement on arrest of Muharrem Erbey: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/01/12/turkey-rights-defender-arrested

English Pen statement on Muharrem Erbey: http://www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/turkeywriterandlawyermuharremerbeydetained/

Amnesty International briefing on human rights in Turkey, including Muharrem Erbey’s case: www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR44/004/…/eur440042010en.pdf <http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR44/004/…/eur440042010en.pdf>

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network statement on Muharrem Erbey: http://en.euromedrights.org/index.php/news/emhrn_releases/emhrn_statements_2009/4058.html

My reporting on the Kurds landed me in a Turkish prison, Jake Hess, The Independent, 31/8/10


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