Treason trial of Kurdish MPs stirs hatred

A TURKISH court yesterday refused to release six Kurdish nationalist parliamentarians who have been held in custody on political charges for six months, digging the country deeper into a show trial that is alienating Turkey's 12 million ethnic Kurds and the West.

Severe state prosecutors produced evidence from phone-taps to support claims that the defendants were in close contact with the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK. The six are charged with treason.

'I am not being accused of a crime, but a potential crime. I'm being tried for my name, my Kurdish identity,' said Sirri Sakik during a recess. But many Turks are deeply suspicious. Mr Sakik's brother is 'Fingerless Zeki', the notorious PKK guerrilla leader.

Five of the six have been stripped of their parliamentary seats. Prosecutors are now demanding the death penalty for Mr Sakik, Ahmet Turk, Mahmut Alinak, Orhan Dogan, Hatip Dicle and Leyla Zana. It is unlikely that they will be executed, say police. The case is more likely to drag on damagingly for years.

'It's a political trial, so I suppose in the end politics will decide what happens,' said Mr Turk, who, despite his name, is a prominent Kurdish tribal landlord. 'If they are accusing our party of being part of the PKK, why isn't the whole party on trial, and not just us?' asked Mr Dogan, a lawyer.

Even speaking up for Kurdish rights can be a terrorist offence in the increasingly polarised, nationalist atmosphere of Turkey today. Ankara's Human Rights Foundation says at least 108 people are in jail, including the Kurdish parliamentarians, simply for voicing or printing their views.

The Turkish authorities take an ambivalent attitude to freedom of expression. On the one hand, a government minister visited two writers in prison last month to apologise. On the other, police detained artists and intellectuals last weekend after a small peace demonstration on a Bosporus quayside. 'Rule of law in Turkey is beginning to mean the rule of police, a quite different thing,' said one Western diplomat, noting that legislative reform was most unlikely in the short term because of a growing authoritarian streak in the government and the decay of the parliamentary system.

Voices of reason are becoming more isolated. 'Let's get rid of this paranoia about separatism and have confidence in ourselves. We must set our own house in order,' said the newspaper Sabah.

In a weak response, the Government last weekend sponsored a mixed commission of parliamentarians and the media to set some limit on free speech. But the first meeting ended up deciding only to delegate the matter to another committee. Turkey's allies in the West back Ankara's fight against PKK terrorism but insist that peaceful demands for ethnic rights are legitimate. Ankara feels that concessions will send it down the slippery slope of ethnic division as in former Yugoslavia.

'Inciting people to rebellion, causing conflicts among people, and provocation cannot be regarded as freedom of expression. Turkey should preserve its unity,' President Suleyman Demirel said in the speech that opened the parliamentary year. Members of parliament applauded.

Such intransigence suited the grim, huge, narrow-windowed judicial complex in the heart of Ankara where the Kurds' case is being heard. But police were clearly under orders to be sugar-sweet with everybody, even the much-hated foreign observers, about a dozen of whom were on view yesterday. The oddest element of the trial is its almost chatty informality, forcing the judge to warn the mainly Kurdish audience that it is a court not a coffee shop. Defendants are often free to take cigarette breaks in recesses or to mix with reporters, Turkish television cameramen, friends and scores of lawyers ready to defend them.

'We could be dead, like the 2,000 people killed in 'unsolved murders' (of Kurds by alleged death squads). But what sort of life is it, locked up like this, with no freedom to speak out,' said Ms Zana, one of those on trial. 'Still, at least people in Turkey are debating the Kurdish question now.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high