Posted by: hevallo | December 8, 2009

Turkey Jails and Tortures Children!

Daan Bauwens

DIYARBAKIR, Southeastern Turkey (IPS) – 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 percent 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. (Dec 6, 2009) (END)Source: IPS


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