Posted by: hevallo | August 1, 2009

Students in London Support Leyla Zana

Leyla Zana (centre) speaking at SOAS. Photo: KSSO

Prominent Kurdish politician Leyla Zana has been sentenced to 15 months in jail by a Turkish court following charges over a speech she made at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). (Zana pictured above at SOAS making the speech that has ended up with a prison sentence)

The court ruled on Tuesday (28th July) that she was guilty of disseminating “propaganda for a terrorist organization” because she is said to have called the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan “as important for the Kurdish people as the brain and the soul are for a human being.”

The court cited “speeches made abroad between 2007 and 2008″ which included the comments made in May last year at a seminar organised by the SOAS Kurdish society on “the obstacles and options for a political and peaceful solution of Turkey’s Kurdish question”.

Her lawyers demanded acquittal, arguing that this did not constitute propaganda, but the court convicted her under Article 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Law. It is thought there will be an appeal.

Professor Mary Davis of London Metropolitan University, who chaired the seminar, called the charges “completely trumped up”.

She said: “The issue is one of freedom of speech and academic freedom. If she [Zana] mentioned him [PKK leader Ocalan] it has been deliberately misinterpreted and taken out of context.”

The academics’ trade union UCU has unanimously passed an emergency motion of solidarity with Zana, which calls on the Principal of SOAS, and the Vice Chancellor of London University to “defend the rights of academic freedom and to communicate this in the strongest terms to the Turkish Embassy”.

Janroj Yilmaz Keles, the founder of Kurdish Studies and Student Organisation, condemned the decision of the Turkish court as a “direct attack on freedom of expression, protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

“Turkey has to take active steps to provide a viable, long term peaceful solution to the Kurdish question instead of struggling to suppress the voices of those working towards this goal,” he added.

He called the sentence a discriminatory decision, adding: “Not only is she Kurdish, she is a woman, up against a justice system dominated by men, a woman publicising taboo subjects.

This is one of many, many legal actions they have taken against her.”

Zana previously spent 10 years in jail after being arrested for using the Kurdish language, which is severely restricted in Turkey, when being sworn in as the first female Kurdish MP to sit in the Turkish Parliament.

In 1994 a court convicted her of links to the PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union. She was released in 2004 following international pressure.

Zana is a former deputy of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) which the Turkish government alleges is linked to the PKK, a militant group which wants self-rule in the South-Eastern region of the country.

They have been in conflict with the government for 25 years, over which time at least 40,000 people are thought to have been killed. But DTP leaders state that they support a unified and democratic Turkey.

The EU awarded Zana the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1995, and she has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. Turkey’s human rights record and the Kurdish question remain major barriers to it joining the European Union. Source: London Student

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