Posted by: hevallo | April 29, 2010

EU Tells Turkey: ‘Stop Jailing Children!"

Turkish parties under pressure to address child prisoners

A major political row has erupted in Turkey over the plight of hundreds of children, many of them Kurds, currently languishing in the country’s adult jails. The matter has also raised eyebrows in the European Union.

Political groups in Turkey are caught in a to-and-fro over hundreds of child prisoners currently serving time in adult jails. The children, most of whom are Kurds convicted of taking part in illegal demonstrations, are also causing concern in the European Union.

According to local human rights groups there are nearly 300 children in adult jails in Turkey, many of whom are serving decade-long sentences. Most are Kurdish children convicted under Turkey’s anti-terror laws for throwing stones at Turkish security forces or participating in demonstrations in support of the banned Kurdish separatist group the PKK.

Hasan Dundar, 16, is currently out on bail but is facing 10 years in jail for taking part in such a protest. He says his treatment after being detained was inhumane.

“First we were taken to prison, and immediately paramilitary officers came and beat us for two to three hours,” he says. “Then the guards took us inside and they started beating us. We were there for four days and during all that time we were beaten. Every morning, they came and beat us.”

Human rights groups say that more than 1,000 Kurdish children are facing time in jail like Hasan

Turkish Kurds demonstrate in support of Kurdish rebels in IstanbulMany Turkish Kurds want their own Kurdish homeland

Wheeling and dealing

In a surprise move, the leader of Turkey’s opposition National Action Party, which has been among the harshest critics of what it describes as Kurdish terrorism, has proposed an amnesty for all child prisoners.

But there are fears the amnesty call is an attempt to force the release of juveniles convicted of murdering a Turkish-Armenian journalist and an Italian priest. Both juveniles have links to nationalist extremists.

Even the country’s main pro-Kurdish party, the BDP, has been reluctant to support the idea.

“An idea that is abruptly put forward without any preparatory work, without involving the other party groups, may bring disadvantages as well as the proposed advantages,” says Hasip Kaplan, a BDP member of parliament.

The ruling AK party is also likely to involve itself in the ongoing debate in a bid to gain support for its constitutional reform plans.

All the country’s main opposition parties currently oppose those reforms, and observers say the only hope the AK party has of passing them is to secure the support of the BDP, which has not ruled out supporting the government, albeit for a price.

In a bid to gain the BDP’s support, the AK party has begun addressing the issue of child prisoners in adult jails.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoganPrime Minister Erdogan’s AK party has gotten involved

“We have important work to do when it comes to justice system for children,” says Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin. “We are working both in terms of bringing child prisons up to modern standards and introducing legal reforms. We will soon make our plans public, as soon as we have finished our constitutional reforms.”

Turkish EU accession

The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, is also putting pressure on Ankara to end the practice of putting children in adult jails.

“There is no doubt we oppose such moves, that we make clear to our Turkish friends and colleagues that as part of the continuing reforms in the country it has to stop happening,” says Richard Howitt, spokesman for the European Parliament’s committee on Turkey.

Such mounting pressure from all sides is now giving hope for the hundreds of children languishing in adult jails and many more facing a similar prospect. But observers point out that despite such consensus, the wheels of reform in Turkey, can move painfully slowly.


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