Leading Article: A vital test for modern Turkish democracy

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The Independent Culture
THE TURKISH "Eagle-has-landed" seizure of Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya last week does not bode well for his chances of a fair trial. The leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was illegally arrested and bundled away without due process. Mr Ocalan has been charged with treason and is currently imprisoned on an Alcatraz-like island near Istanbul. If convicted he faces the death penalty. Turkey must ensure that he is given a fair trial, to prove to the world that it respects the rule of law.

Turkey is knocking hard on the gates of the European Union, and its moves to bring its conduct into line with the ECHR are welcome. It has given its citizens the right of personal petition to the European Court of Justice at Strasbourg. But there is much yet to do, given that the court has found against Turkey for house-burning, the use of rape as torture, and extrajudicial killings. Many of the 300 law suits concerning Turkey that are currently before the court relate to the activities of the State Security Court, a semi-military tribunal, which will try Mr Ocalan. The European Court has adjudged that these bodies' "lack of independence and impartiality has been established". Mr Ocalan is a civilian and as such should receive a normal criminal trial for the charge of treason.

The Turkish parliament has already signed and ratified both the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the UN Declaration on Civil and Political Rights. These documents, as well as Article 90 of the Turkish constitution, enjoin upon the Turkish state the obligation to give defendants a fair trial without torture or other abuses of their human rights. As Mr Ocalan was not allowed to see a lawyer until a week after his detention, the conditions in which Turkey is holding him are not helping to secure his rights.

The slaughter of Bosnia's Muslims made many suspect that the EU is a revived Christendom. If Turkey cleans up its act the EU must tell it when it can join - or, if it is not allowed to do so, why it cannot. The EU must not hide its objection to embracing a large non-European Islamic country behind the faults in Turkey's immature democracy and human rights record. The Ocalan trial is a test not only of Turkey's commitment to the rule of law, but also of the EU's intentions towards the Muslim world.