Roj-TV trial to begin on Tuesday

 

Protest in Berlin: 'Hands off Roj-TV'

 

The trial against Roj-TV is set to begin on Tuesday, 19 October in Copenhagen at the City Court.  As reported earlier in a case overview by Kurdistan Commentary an indictment was issued against the Kurdish satellite TV station and its parent company, Mesopotamia Broadcast A/S METV. The indictment against the station was filed by the Danish Prosecutor General’s office for violation of Penal Code §114e. Under this provision in Danish law, it is an offence for a person, group, or association to promote the affairs of a terrorist organisation. The indictment is for ‘promoting the affairs of the terrorist organisation, PKK’ (Kurdistan Workers’ Party or Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan in Kurdish).

Protests in support of Roj-TV have been held in Europe and Turkey during the past week.  Demonstrators took to the streets in Izmir (Turkey) and Berlin (Germany). In Brussels last week, more than 100 members of the Roj-TV staff staged a demonstration to vocalise their displeasure with the case against their station.  They held up a red, green and yellow banner in French reading ‘Roj-Tv est la voix du peuple Kurde’ (Roj-TV is the voice of the Kurdish people).


video clip of Roj-TV employees demonstrating in Brussels

In a press release by Roj-TV staff they say the case against Roj-TV is

in line with the request of [the] Turkish state and the international forces, is not only an injustice committed against Kurds but also a big blow to the freedom of thought and information. It is a massacre against thought and more importantly, it is an intervention, which does not regard the will, language, culture, art and political identity of the Kurds whose population has reached 40 million in the world.

The Turkish state is persecuting the Kurdish media within its borders, whilst at the same time doing its utmost to try to silence the Kurdish press and media outside of its borders. With its policy of persecuting Kurdish press and media, freedom of thought, Turkey is well-known around the world for its disrespect for the freedom of speech, free media and thought. Using every diplomatic opportunity both locally and internationally, the Turkish state has always stated that criminalising the Kurdish cause and bringing onboard international support is directly link to the ineffectiveness of Kurdish media and press and in particular ROJ TV. The Turkish state war against Kurdish media and press is somewhat significant. In this war, it firstly censors the Kurdish media after which it issues millions of pounds and issues years of prison sentences, and if these do not work it results to the full closure. In essence, alongside its diplomatic attempts the Turkish government has utilized millions of dollars at trying to close down ROJ TV. When it could not defeat the consciousness of the international community, Turkey has tried to gain the support of individual countries. Clearly, The Danish Prosecutor indictment against ROJ TV is an indication of these dirty politics based on self-interest. As indicated above, The Turkish state has utilized all its attempts to try to silence ROJ TV both within Europe and Denmark. The Copenhagen Prosecutor contains the complaints directly advocated by Turkey.

For the full press release see Libre News, Roj-TV employees staged protest in Brussels.

In response to a question posed on Twitter by one of his followers, senior Roj-TV official Amed Dicle (@AmedDcle) said the chances of the closure of Roj-TV are ‘fifty-fifty.’

 

Street demonstrations in support of Roj-TV in Izmir

 

Partial timeline of events in Roj-TV’s history:

• 09 December 2003: Roj-TV receives broadcasting licence in Denmark

• 01 March 2004: Roj-TV begins broadcasting

• July 2005: Investigation begins

• November 2005: Turkish PM Erdoğan refuses to attend press conference with Danish counterpart Rasmussen because Roj-TV was present

• May 2007: Danish Radio and Television Board announces that Roj-TV has not violated any laws regarding incitement to hatred or violence

• 24 February 2008: Belgian officials fine Roj-TV €4.25m (later annulled)

• 19 June 2008: Germany bans Roj-TV broadcasts

• mid-2008: Zonoozi steps down from position as head of Roj-TV in Denmark

• 01 April 2009: Danish prosecutors sent to Ankara to investigate links between Roj-TV and the PKK

• 04 April 2009: Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen selected to be NATO’s next Secretary General

• 01 August 2009: Rasmussen becomes NATO Secretary General

• 24 February 2010: German ban on Roj-TV abolished

• 04 March 2010: Roj-TV offices raided in Belgium

 


Copenhagen City Court

 

• May 2010: Zonoozi goes to Berlingske Tidene to give his story

• 31 August 2010: Danish Prosecutor General’s office announces indictment against Roj-TV; offices raided; bank accounts confiscated

• 07 October 2010 Prosecutor Lise-Lotte Nilas asked the Copenhagen district court to revoke Roj-TV’s broadcasting licence

• 19 October 2010 Trial begins in Copenhagen

For whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee, Sardasht Osman.

Sardasht Osman

Does anyone really believe the findings of the Sardasht Osman murder investigation? It doesn’t seem so. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the report lacks credibility and it was ‘dismayed by the deficient inquiry.’ Reporters without Borders called the inquiry ‘unconvincing.’ A group of Kurdish journalists meeting in Suleimania with the Metro Centre press freedom group called the inquiry ‘disappointing.’ They are, without a doubt, being polite in their public statements.

Sardasht’s brother, Bakr Osman, condemned the findings calling them ‘baseless.’ In a statement issued in Hewlêr (Erbil), Bakr and other family members expressed their resentment and called for an independent inquiry.

On 04 May of this year unidentified gunmen approached Osman on the university campus where he was a final-year English student, beat him and dragged him into a white passenger van. He was found shot to death in Mosul two days later. His body was dumped outside the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headquarters. He had two bullet wounds through the mouth, a symbolic punishment for someone who has spoken out.

Osman, 23, was a student at the University of Salahaddin- Hewlêr, a reporter for Ashtiname and a regular contributor to independent news Websites Sbei, Awene, Hawlati, and Lvinpress. He would have graduated in June.

Family members grieve at Sardasht Osman's funeral

Shortly after his death, Osman’s brother Beshdar told CPJ that he was convinced that Sardasht was killed because of a critical article he wrote in the independent daily Ashtiname in April about a high-ranking KRG official. ‘In the last few months my brother received a number of phone threats, demanding that he stop meddling in government affairs,’ said the brother back in May.

Osman also penned a satirical Web-based piece for the Kurdistan Post, I am in love with Massoud Barzani’s daughter, in which he envisioned himself as Barzani’s son-in-law with all the luxurious trappings and benefits that go along with being part of the ruling family. For example, he wrote that he ‘would hire a couple Italian doctors to treat [my diabetic mother] in the comfort of her own house. For my uncles, I would open few offices and departments and they, along with all my nieces and nephews would become high generals, officers, and commanders.’

Criticism of the government’s actions or its ruling elite is not tolerated, however. Reporters Without Borders believes that the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and PUK, the two ruling parties that control Kurdistan, have reached a ‘tacit strategic accord’ to restrict the freedom of journalists as much as possible. ‘Anything goes for the KDP and the PUK as far as muzzling the press is concerned,’ the press freedom organisation said.

So now, after a 5-month investigation, the special committee released a meager 430-word (words!) report claiming that terrorists are to blame. See English version of report here.

After the special committee, headed up by the KRG’s Interior Minister, Karim Sinjari, ‘collected and analyzed different information from various sources’, they ‘learned’ that Hisham Mahmood Ismail, a 28-year-old Kurdish mechanic from Mosul, was involved in the abduction of Sardasht Osman. Ismail is allegedly a member of Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamist group. So under the supervision of the committee and supposedly through the authority of the court, the Asayish in coordination with the local police near Mosul, arrested Ismail and turned him over to the investigation committee. The 430-word report says that ‘after interrogating the arrested suspect, he confessed that he was involved in the crime.’

Karim Sinjari, head of the special committee that investigated Osman's murder

‘After interrogating the arrested suspect…he confessed.’ Possible translation: the alleged suspect was beaten and tortured and eventually forced to sign a confession. Arrest warrants have apparently been issued for other suspects, who will surely ‘confess’ as Ismail did.

Ansar al-Islam, formerly based mainly in the mountains around Halabja, has been fighting against the Kurdish authorities in the Kurdistan region, and against the Iraqi government and US forces outside the Kurdistan region since its formation in 2001. It has carried out numerous armed and suicide attacks, including kidnapping, torture and killing of civilians, as well as killing members of security forces after capture.

Until early 2008 the KRG held hundreds of detainees without charge or trial on suspicion of belonging to or sympathising with Islamist groups, in particular Ansar al-Islam. By September 2008 the majority of these had been ‘pardoned’ and released. However, scores have remained in detention in prisons controlled by the Asayish, the KRG’s main security agency.

On 25 May, The International Press Institute published an open letter signed by eighteen foreign correspondents, who called on Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani to launch an independent investigation into the murder of Sardasht Osman. The corresponsdents, who have long covered the region, include Chris Kutschera, Quil Lawrence and Martin Woollacott. The 18 also called for a public commitment from the KRG to Articles V and VI of the Kurdish Press Law of 2008 calling for severe punishment of anyone, including the security forces, who attacks members of the press.

The correspondents received a response from Karim Zibari on behalf of the office of President Barzani. ‘We are confident that no shred of evidence will be overlooked and take very seriously the importance of sending a clear message that the intimidation of any citizen of the Kurdistan Region will not be tolerated.’ Zibari also wrote that it was ‘extremely unfortunate that the tragic death of this young Kurdish student has been exploited for the personal political gain of a few.’

The correspondents wrote back on 31 May that they ‘anxiously await the findings of an independent investigation designed to uncover the culprits and prevent further intimidation of journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan.’

Protest in June. Demonstrator holds up photo of Sardasht Osman.

Well, the ‘findings’ have been announced but do little to ‘uncover the culprits’. The special committee, lacking any shred of independence, claims that Ansar al-Islam is back, operating in the middle of Hewlêr. It defies logic and reeks of a cover-up. Ansar al-Islam is a convenient scapegoat.

The murder of Sardasht Osman is only the latest in a string of violent, often deadly attacks against Kurdish journalists. Last year, Kurdish journalist for Lvin Magazine Soran Mama Hama was murdered in front of his house in Kirkuk after he had written articles that offended government officials. On 20 April 2010, regional security forces attacked at least 16 Kurdish journalists reporting on student demonstrations in Suleimania. Some were beaten severely by police, and others had their cameras taken and their photographs destroyed. On 28 April, police interrogated the editor of the journal Hawlati, Kamal Rauf, for five hours after he published information on the absence of public services in a Kurdish village. Another editor, Fuad Sadiq, lost his job for criticising Prime Minister Barham Salih. Hakim Qubadi Jali Zada, a Kurdish jurist and poet, was dismissed as a judge in Suleimania for writing an article in the newspaper Hawal that disparaged aspects of the judicial system.

Sadly, Sardasht Osman will probably not be the last victim of the government’s suppression of the freedom of the press. He knew he was in imminent danger for his writings, as do many journalists. But he courageously persevered, fully expecting his tragic end.

In a piece entitled ‘I heard the first ring of my death’ Sardasht Osman wrote the following (excerpt):

In the last few days I was told for the first time that there isn’t much left of your life. To put it in their own words I have no permission to breathe in this city but I fear neither death nor torture. I am waiting for … my killers. I pray that they grant me a tragic death, which deserves my tragic life…. I want them to understand that what scares us is not death but the continuation of such days for our next generation…. The tragedy is the authorities don’t care about the death of the generations…. Whatever happens I will not leave this city, and I will wait for my own death. I know this is the first bell ring for my death but at the end it will become a ring bell for the youth in my society.

Read the complete version of I heard the first ring of my death.

Sources:

Reporter abducted, slain in northern Iraq. Committee to Protect Journalists, 06 May 2010.

Investigation of Kurdish journalist’s murder lacks credibility. Committee to Protect Journalists, 15 September 2010.

Veteran journalists seek justice in Iraqi Kurdistan. Committee to Protect Journalists, 17 May 2010.

Iraqi Kurdistan: Parties in ruling coalition agree to gag the press. KurdMedia, 6 May 2010

Cockburn, Patrick Cockburn and Terri Judd. Iraq: the most dangerous place on earth for journalists. The Independent, 14 June 2010.

I am in love with Massoud Barzani’s daughter, a poem that kills. KurdMedia, 10 May 2010.

Kurdistan President’s Office Responds to Press Freedom Criticism by Famed Correspondents. International Press Institute, 08 June 2010.

Abdul-Rahman, Frman and Sirwan Gharib. Campaigning for Media Rights in Iraqi Kurdistan. Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 23 June 2010.

Amnesty International Report: New order, same abuses. Kurdistan Commentary, 16 September 2010.

Case overview: Denmark indicts Roj-TV for supporting terrorism

Screenshot from Roj-TV

On 31 August 2010 an indictment was issued against Kurdish satellite TV station, Roj-TV, and its parent company, Mesopotamia Broadcast A/S METV.

Roj-TV began operations in March 2004 and broadcasts in Kurdish and several other languages to more than 70 countries. Administrative offices are located in Denmark where its operating licence was issued. The station’s broadcasting centre is in Denderleeuw, Belgium and was raided by police and security forces in March of this year. The studios in Denderleeuw are operated by ROJ NV, a separate broadcast production company that supplies programming to Roj-TV.

From the time the Danish Radio and Television Board granted the licence to Roj-TV there has been ever-increasing tension between Copenhagen and Ankara. Turkey has continuously pressured Denmark and other European allies to stop Roj-TV transmissions, lodging complaint after official complaint.

The current indictment against the station was filed by the Danish Prosecutor General’s office for violation of Penal Code §114e. Under this provision under Danish law, it is an offence for a person, group, or association to promote the affairs of a terrorist organisation. The indictment is for ‘promoting the affairs of the terrorist organisation, PKK’ (Kurdistan Workers’ Party or Partiya Karkerên

Kurdistan in Kurdish). The press release from PG Jørgen Steen Sørensen (see press release in Danish) specifically mentions repeated broadcasts of interviews with PKK sympathisers and leaders, saying that a number of programmes, according to their content, are ‘propaganda activities supporting the PKK and that this propaganda activity is likely to promote the activities of the PKK.’ The press release also mentioned that ‘cases of violation of Penal Code §114e are rare.’  (see the Danish Security and Intelligence Service website for complete details on Section 114 and its clauses).

This code clearly indicates that a ‘person’ is liable, not an organisation. However, a ‘person’ has not been indicted in this case against Roj-TV. Danish State Prosector Lise-Lotte Nilas said that her office decided to go after the companies rather than individuals. The prosecutor’s office felt that the investigation would have taken longer had they chosen to bring an indictment against the people involved in the case rather than the companies.

And more delays were what they did not want. The case against Roj-TV has taken long enough as it is, with only one investigator assigned to it. An investigation into alleged ties with the PKK began in July 2005, making it five years and a month to indict Roj-TV and Mesopotamia Broadcast A/S METV. Mesopotamia is the parent company for Roj-TV, Mezopotamya TV (ME TV) and the Mesopotamia Music Channel (MMC).

The case is complicated, pitting press freedoms against illegal financing and support of terrorism. But the deck is stacked against Roj-TV with Denmark being called Europe’s weak link, bringing with it enormous pressure on Danish courts to shut the station down and prove Denmark can be a partner in the global fight against terrorism.

Former managing director of Roj-TV’s administrative offices in Denmark, Manouchehr Zonoozi, went public in the spring claiming that Roj-TV had substantive connections to the PKK. He turned over photographs showing meetings between senior management at Roj-TV and members of the PKK. Photographs were from meetings in Belgium as well as at PKK training camps in the Qandil Mountains. He says he learned of the Roj-TV/PKK connections back in 2004 at a meeting at a PKK camp in Hewlêr (Erbil).

Zonoozi was director of the station until mid-2008. Some reports say Zonoozi resigned from his position due to threats from members of the PKK in Belgium. Other reports indicate he was fired by a representative from the PKK. He is now cooperating with Danish national intelligence (PET) and has been given a new identity. He lives in a safe house under police protection after several threats were made against his life. Yilmaz Imdat is the new head of Roj-TV in Denmark.

Lise-Lotte Nilas, Danish Public Prosecutor in the case, said that contact with PKK in and of itself is not forbidden by law. So this does not constitute a crime. What is important, she underscored, and what was the scope of the investigation, is whether Roj-TV supports terrorism and incites further terrorist actions. The investigation focused mainly on the organisational and economic structure of the TV station.

If the past is any indication, then the answer is that the station does not incite terrorist actions. In response to three complaints by Turkish authorities in 2006, the Danish Radio and Television Board determined in May 2007 that Roj-TV had not violated any broadcasting rules (ruling memo, .pdf) nor had they incited violence or hatred.

Danish Radio and TV board chairman, Christian Scherfig, says that from what he has seen from Roj-TV, their programming is similar to the objective news coverage from other stations such as DR or TV2 [Danish television stations].

Another piece of the investigative puzzle was the discovery back in May 2010 that Ibrahim Ayaz, a Kurdish Swede who sits on the Roj-TV board of directors, held a 20% stake in Roj-TV. Ayaz was Abullah Öcalan’s bodyguard and personal assistant. Henrik Winkel, chairman of the Roj-TV board, has reportedly said in private that he is no longer making decisions for the station since Ayaz’s accession to the board.

In the Belgian offices of Roj-TV: Seated is Chairman of the Board, Henrik C. Winkel; third from the left is former head of Roj-TV, Manouchehr Zonoozi.

Berlingske Tidene, a Danish newspaper with a conservative bent, has extensive coverage of Roj-TV. It came under fire from Kurdish organisations across Europe for its coverage of alleged connections between the station and the PKK. Henrik Winkel, Roj-TV chairman, said that despite the ‘insulting’ and ‘defamatory’ articles published in Berlingske Tidene, Roj-TV would not file a lawsuit against the newspaper. Winkel said it would be ‘a wasted effort and would not lead to anything.’

Part of Berlingske Tidene’s investigation revealed that Roj-TV has received 118,000,000 Danish Kr. (appx. €16m) since 2004 in ‘illegal’ funding from the Copenhagen-based Kurdish Culture Foundation (KCF). Monies from the KCF are deemed illegal because there is no clarity as to where the KCF receives the funds that it then donates. The prosecution’s case will try to prove that the funding comes from the PKK, linking ‘terrorist’ money to the TV station.

The Danish Justice Ministry’s Civil Affairs Agency (CAA) in the past has threatened the Kurdish Culture Foundation with fines (once in 2004 and again in 2008) due to its untraceable largesse. No sanctions were ever levied against the KCF, however Danish Justice Minister Lars Barfoed has now prohibited the organisation from any further donations to Roj-TV without explicit approval from the CAA.

After the indictment was announced, police arrived at the offices of Roj-TV at H.C. Andersens Boulevard, 39 in Copenhagen. They drilled out the lock in the door, entered, and took away five desktop computers and several boxes. Everything was then loaded into a white van parked outside the doors.

Berki Dibek, Turkish Ambassador to Denmark: 'I have confidence that the Danish judicial system will find Roj-TV guilty of promoting terrorism. Roj-TV is part of the PKK, which has killed thousand of people in Turkey.'

Turkey’s ambassador to Denmark, Berki Dibek, was obviously pleased with the indictment and made his feelings known in an announcement in which he said he was confident that the Danish judicial system would do the right thing.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision in a statement saying it expects ‘that these media organisations…will get the punishment they deserve.’

The Turkish press, too, welcomed the decision with headlines such as ‘Finally, Denmark’ and ‘Good morning, Denmark’, referring sarcastically to the length of time it took for the indictment to be handed down.

Line Barfod, a Danish member of parliament and legal affairs spokesperson from the Red-Green Alliance (Endhedslisten) calls the indictment against Roj-TV a serious curtailment of freedom of expression in Denmark. She said that if the media is no longer free to broadcast interviews and reports from areas of conflict, then it is a very serious limitation on freedom of expression. She added that Danish authorities are bowing to pressure from Turkey and the US and laments the fact that millions of Kurds may no longer be able to watch TV in their native language. Barfod also stated that Denmark’s anti-terrorism laws must be amended to avoid further reductions in press freedoms and freedom of speech.

No date has been set yet for the trial, which is expected to be followed closely across Europe and in Turkey. The trial will take place at the Copenhagen Municipal Court. Should Roj-TV and its parent company be found guilty, prosecutors will ask that Roj-TV’s broadcast licence be revoked.

Denmark’s leading criminal law expert, University of Copenhagen professor Jørn Vestergaard, believes the prosecution has fairly good odds of winning the case. In the meantime, and much to the frustration of Ankara, Roj-TV continues on the air.

Partial timeline of events in Roj-TV’s history:

• 09 December 2003: Roj-TV receives broadcasting licence in Denmark

• 01 March 2004: Roj-TV begins broadcasting

• July 2005: Investigation begins

• November 2005: Turkish PM Erdoğan refuses to attend press conference with Danish counterpart Rasmussen because Roj-TV was present

• May 2007: Danish Radio and Television Board announces that Roj-TV has not violated any laws regarding incitement to hatred or violence

• 24 February 2008: Belgian officials fine Roj-TV €4.25m (later annulled)

• 19 June 2008: Germany bans Roj-TV broadcasts

• mid-2008: Zonoozi steps down from position as head of Roj-TV in Denmark

• 01 April 2009: Danish prosecutors sent to Ankara to investigate links between Roj-TV and the PKK

• 04 April 2009: Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen selected to be NATO’s next Secretary General

• 01 August 2009: Rasmussen becomes NATO Secretary General

• 24 February 2010: German ban on Roj-TV abolished

• 04 March 2010: Roj-TV offices raided in Belgium

• May 2010: Zonoozi goes to Berlingske Tidene to give his story

• 31 August 2010: Danish Prosecutor General’s office announces indictment against Roj-TV

Sources:

Denmark: Roj-TV at the heart of Turk-Danish relations. Information and Liaison Bulletin, Institut Kurde de Paris, No. 289, April 2009.

Doğan, Yonca. NATO’s new chief Rasmussen offers no apology on cartoons. Today’s Zaman, 07 April 2009.

ROJ TV’s head says it won’t be shut down. Hurriyet Daily News, 08 April 2009.

Jelbo, Michael, Simon Bendtsen, and Karl Stougaard. PKK-leders livvagt medejer af ROJ TV. Berlingske Tidene, 29 May 2010.

More PKK connections to Kurdish station exposed. The Copenhagen Post Online, 31 May 2010.

Roj TV vil ikke sagsøge Berlingske. Politiken.dk, 01 June 2010.

Danish investigation on Roj-TV will soon draw to an end. ANF News Agency, 04 August 2010.

Ex-Roj TV head in hiding. The Copenhagen Post Online, 16 August 2010.

Danish Daily reveals one officer handling Roj-TV inquiry. Today’s Zaman, 27 August 2010.

Olsen, Jan. Denmark alleges Kurdish TV station promoted terror. AP News, 31 August 2010.

Roj-TV charged under anti-terrorism laws. Politiken.dk, 31 August 2010.

Ingen risikerer fængsel i ROJ-sag. Politiken.dk, 31 August 2010

Danîmarka qedexebûna Roj tv xwest. Rojeva Kurd, 31 August 2010.

Bendtsen, Simon, Karl Stougaard, and Lene Frøslev. Historisk terrortiltale mod ROJ TV. Berlingske Tidene, 31 August 2010.

Bendtsen, Simon. Enhedslisten: ROJ-sag er trussel mod ytringsfrihed. Berlingske Tidene, 01 September 2010.

Turkey Welcomes Denmark’s Case against Roj-TV. Journal of the Turkish Weekly, 01 September 2010.

Stougaard, Karl and Simon Bendtsen. ROJ-tiltale trækker overskrifter. Berlingske Tidene, 01 September 2010.

Stougaard, Karl and Simon Bendtsen. Terrorsag uden terrorister. Berlingske Tidene, 01 September 2010.

Racisme og terror sløres bag ytringsfriheden. Politiken.dk, 02 September 2010.

Danish prosecutors charge ROJ-TV with promoting terrorism

Prosecutors in Denmark cave to Turkish pressure!

Danish prosecutors charge ROJ-TV with promoting terrorism

Jan M. Olsen, Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A Kurdish-language TV station with a Danish broadcasting license has been charged with promoting a group linked to terrorism, Danish prosecutors said Tuesday.

Top prosecutor Joergen Steen Soerensen said that Roj-TV is helping promote the PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.

PKK rebels have been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984. Turkey accuses Roj-TV of being a mouthpiece for the PKK.

According to Soerensen, Roj-TV has “persistently” aired shows with interviews of PKK members and supporters but also about skirmishes between Kurds and Turkish forces. The station’s content was “aimed at promoting and supporting the activities of the terrorist organization PKK” and its political wing, Kongra-Gel, the prosecutor said.

The programs “must be regarded as having the characteristics of propaganda in support of PKK,” Soerensen said. The charges came after “extremely comprehensive investigations” of the connections between Roj-TV and PKK, he added.

The charges also include Mesopotamia Broadcast A/S METV, a company behind Roj-TV.

Roj-TV has a Danish broadcasting license but has no studios in Denmark. Calls to the station were not answered, but Roj-TV officials have previously denied terror links.

In Turkey, a senior Foreign Ministry official called the decision “a very positive development” and said “it’s something Turkey has been asking for all along.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with Turkish rules that bar civil servants from speaking to journalists without prior authorization.

Under Denmark’s anti-terror law, a person can face prison up to 10 years for supporting a terrorist organization.

Justice Minister Lars Barfoed welcomed the decision, saying it now was up to a court of law to consider Roj-TV’s activities.

No date has been set for the trial, which will take place at Copenhagen City Court.

Prosecutors also said they would ask the Danish Radio and Television Board to revoke the station’s license, which was issued over six years ago, based on criminal violations.

Danish-Turkish relations have long been strained over Kurdish groups based in Denmark.

In 1995, a political arm of the PKK opened its fourth European office in Copenhagen, sparking protests from the Turkish Embassy. The office later closed because of a lack of funding.

In 2000, Turkey protested that a Kurdish-language satellite TV station, Mesopotamia TV, was allowed to broadcast from Denmark to Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa.

And in 2005, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan boycotted a news conference in Copenhagen to protest the presence of Roj-TV journalists.

__

Associated Press writer Susan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.

Osman Baydemir, Kurdish politician par exellence

Baydemir: The autonomy plan would further be a 'counter-poison to the 21st century’s separation, tears and quarreling.'

Just over a week ago in Dersim, Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir called for Kurdish autonomy. He calls the BDP’s autonomy project a ‘project of living together’ and not one of secession. Baydemir explains that in addition to the Turkish National Assembly, there would be a Kurdistan Regional Parliament. He envisions a Turkish flag and ‘our flag of green, red, and yellow…flapping next to it.’ He also suggested autonomous regions in the Central Black Sea and other areas.

The response to his call for autonomy was swift and harsh. Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek lashed out at Baydemir, saying his statements were ‘nonsensical,’ and accused him of speaking recklessly. Some political scientists said what Baydemir proposed was ‘not possible in a unitary state and that Turkey cannot tolerate such a thing.’ Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli was also highly critical of Baydemir’s ‘absurd autonomy comments.’

Baydemir says the autonomy project is misunderstood and he stands by his statements. ‘This is the solution for Kurdish issue. There is no need to talk indirectly,’ he said a few days later.

An investigation has been launched regarding his statements, a sign that free speech in Turkey is far from free. ‘How can the Kurdish problem be resolved if people are not allowed to debate it,’ asked Sezgin Tanrıkulu, former president of the Diyarbakır Bar Association. Öztürk Türkdoğan, chairman of the Human Rights Association (İHD), noted that it was against the European Convention on Human Rights to probe Baydemir over his statements.

The local Prosecutor’s Office, however, has asked for the video footage and voice recordings of Baydemir’s speech from the Dersim (Tunceli) police department as security services had recorded the panel.

Baydemir is no stranger to prosecutions and harassment. He and other regional mayors complain that they are so overwhelmed with court cases that it keeps them from their daily commitments. Baydemir said in 2008 that he has to present himself to the Prosecutor’s office an average of twice a week.

In an interview with Asharq Alawsat in December 2007, three and a half years after he was elected mayor of Diyarbakır, Baydemir said that the lawsuits filed against him ‘since I assumed the position, are more than the cases for which I pleaded [as a lawyer before entering politics]. If I get convicted in all the cases against me, I would have to spend 280 years in jail.’

Soon after he was elected to office, Baydemir began using Kurdish in the municipality’s promotional posters and in many of his talks. Such direct and public use of Kurdish was important for him, Baydemir asserted, as a way of signalling the failure of the state’s effort to destroy Kurdish culture and offering a way to ‘re-establish links with the people.’ Investigations have been opened again him for printing invitations to events in Kurdish and for using the letter ‘W’ in a Newroz card.

In response to Turkish pressure on Copenhagen to close Kurdish satellite station Roj-TV, 53 Kurdish mayors wrote to then Danish PM Anders Rasmussen in December 2005, stating that silencing Roj-TV ‘would mean the loss of an important vehicle in the struggle for democracy and human rights’ in Turkey. A case was opened against them and the prosecution argued that by sending the letter, the mayors had ‘knowingly and willingly’ supported the PKK, and sought sentences of up to 15 years.

Less than one month after the local elections of March 2009, Baydemir was sentenced for calling PKK members ‘guerillas’ instead of ‘terrorists.’

In late December of last year, after the DTP was closed down and scores of politicians were arrested, Baydemir made these comments: ‘Just yesterday we said the oak tree [the symbol of BDP] means hope. I am addressing the prime minister and the government with apologies to my people: Where in your body did the oak branch get stuck? We say, Fuck you, to those who separate us into doves and hawks. They will not find one Kurd to betray his own.’

Baydemir was accused under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Law, of insulting Turkishness, the Republic, its institutions and organs of the government. When asked about the investigation, Baydemir said, ‘One word: congratulations.’

For all that you do, Mayor Baydemir, for your selfless promotion of Kurdish rights, I have one word for you: Congratulations.

Sources:

Oktem, Kerem. The patronising embrace: Turkey’s new Kurdish strategy. Stiftung Forschungsstelle Schweiz-Turkei. Basel, February 2008

The Voice of the Kurds: Q&A with Osman Baydemir. Asharq Alawsat, 20 December 2007.

Confidence Building Between Turks and Iraqi Kurds. June 2009, Project Director: David L. Phillips, The Atlantic Council of the United States.

Turkey: Judiciary harassment against Osman Baydemir. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, 12 April 2007.

Baydemir says ‘congratulations’ for his investigation. Hurriyet, 28 December 2009.

Kurdish Mayor prosecuted over his speech on Autonomy. Rojhelat Kurdish Observer, 02 August 2010.

Diyarbakır mayor issues call for autonomous Turkish regions. Hurriyet, 01 August 2010.

SE Turkish mayor refuses to back down from remarks. Hurriyet, 04 August 2010.

Zibak, Fatma. ‘Kurds should be free to discuss non-violent options’. Sunday’s Zaman, 08 August 2010.

Watts, Nicole. Pro-Kurdish Mayors in As-If Democracy: Symbolic Politics in Diyarbakır. World Congress of KURDISH STUDIES, Irbil, 6-9 September 2006.

Prosecutor seeks 15 years for Kurdish mayors over Denmark letter. Institut Kurde de Paris, 03 April 2007.

Hate speech or freedom of expression?

Ahmet Türk after being released from hospital in April

Back in April while in Samsun, Ahmet Türk took a right hook to the face and ended up in hospital with a broken nose and gashes on his forehead. Türk, former head of the now defunct DTP, was attacked by a young, disgruntled Turkish nationalist, Ismail Çelik. Çelik was arrested immediately. Türk, gracious as ever, did not press charges against his assailant.

A couple days later, Hürriyet newspaper journalist Yılmaz Özdil wrote a column called ‘The Punch’ in which he said, ‘[t]he punch was put in the place of the “hammer of justice.” The person who punched Ahmet Türk on his nose became the interpreter of the feelings of many people in this country. [...] Because the nonsense of the “opening” process that legitimated terrorism is not a one-sided issue. On the other hand it initiated the creation of “bandit heroes.”’

Hürriyet journalist, Yılmaz Özdil

The day after Hürriyet ran the column, 36 lawyers of the Diyarbakır Bar Association filed a criminal complaint against Özdil. In June, the Press Council High Commission, which heard the case against Özdil, unanimously dismissed all charges against him saying that the column did not violate article 13 of the Professional Press Principles. They added that it ‘did not encourage violence and tyranny and did not offend values of humanity,’ but rather his praise of violence was merely an ‘idea.’

Yesterday the Chief Prosecution of Diyarbakır finished up its own investigation, and, surprise, came to the same conclusion. It announced that Özdil’s column fell completely within the bounds of freedom of expression. ‘The action remained within the right to voice a personal opinion as it is a journalist’s duty and within the scope of the freedom to criticise,’ the prosecution concluded.

A journalist’s duty…to criticise? In Turkey? But would that ever apply to a Kurdish journalist who felt he or she had the duty to criticise? Would that be within their ‘scope of freedom’? Absolutely not.

Former Bar Association President Sezgin Tanrıkulu called Özdil’s article ‘hate speech’ saying that the attack was a hate crime and the column tried to ‘justify the attack.’ ‘[The column] encourages the people to that sort of actions [sic] and it suggests that a large part of society tolerates the attack,’ Tanrıkulu indicated. The European Court of Human Rights does not consider hate discourses to be protected by the freedom of expression.

Freedom of the press has many traps in Turkey, which ranks 122nd of 175 countries in a press-freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders. More than 700 cases involving journalists are pending in the courts, according to the general secretary of a Turkish journalists association. Roughly 60 journalists are in jail. Typically a journalist ends up in jail for criticising the government or writing anything positive about the Kurds.

Ismail Çelik, grabbed after the assault

Meanwhile, Ismail Çelik was released in June after two months behind bars. Çelik’s lawyer said that he will not apologise to Türk but rather to the ‘Turkish people’ and the ‘state.’ The lawyer added that ‘Ismail did not do anything to cause so many martyrs in 40 years, but those who are close to the PKK like Ahmet Türk and the BDP did.’ Çelik is due to appear in court again on 27 July.

Bayram Bozyel, the chairman of the pro-Kurdish Rights and Freedoms Party (Hak-Par), called the attack ‘a reflection of the deep anti-Kurdish feelings of the racist segment of society.’

sources:

Zacharia, Janine. As Turkey looks to West, trial highlights lagging press freedom. Washington Post, 05 July 2010.

Önderoğlu, Erol. Prosecutor Deemed “Fist” Column as Freedom of Expression. bianet, 12 July 2010.

Köse, Mehmet. No apology as Türk’s assailant released pending trial. Today’s Zaman, 19 June 2010.

Pelek, Semra. Press Council Deems “Punch” Article in the Limits of Press Freedom. bianet, 17 June 2010.

Journalist Sued for Comment on Attack on Kurdish Politician. bianet, 16 April 2010.

Sardasht Osman debate on Al Jazeera’s Inside Iraq

Al Jazeera English. Inside Iraq’s latest program was a debate on the killing of the Kurdish student journalist, Sardasht Osman.

Debate participants:

Hiwa Osman, the Iraq country director for Institute War and Peace Reporting, son of Kurdish politician Mahmoud Osman and former media advisor to Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.

Houzan Mahmoud, a London-based activist with the Organisations of Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

On Trial: A shoe, a drum, and fiction

There are a few court hearings (one earlier this month, one last week, and one next week) that I’d like to review.

First, see if you can match the action with the sentence:

1. Throwing a shoe at a world leader
2. Keeping a beat on a drum
3. Saying to a judge ‘I fight for freedom. I do not recognise this court.’

Now here are the sentences:

a. 13 years
b. 1 year and 3 months
c. 3 years and 8 months

Okay, match them up.  Done?  The correct answers are: 1.c, 2.a, 3.b.  How many did you guess correctly?

N. Mehmet Güler, author

Let’s start with case number three.  It’s a bit misleading as no one really said that.  In actuality, that’s just dialogue from a novel.  The character, a member of the PKK, spoke these words in a novel and is then admonished for disrespecting the court. The author of the novel, N. Mehmet Güler received 15 months in jail for daring to have a fictional character say that! Güler, violating infamous article 7/2 of Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law, was convicted of ‘making propaganda for the PKK.’  The novel is ‘More difficult decisions than death’ (Ölümden Zor Kararlar) and was published by Belge Publishing.  The publisher was acquitted.  I know it happens, but the fact remains that prosecuting a novelist for fictional dialogue is scary.  Terrorism charges, nonetheless.

Mêrxas Viyan

Going on to case number two.  Mêrxas Viyan faces 13 years for playing the def [see drum in photo].  He, like Güler and his fictional characters, is charged with ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation.’  Viyan participated in the celebrations on 19 October 2009 when the 34-person Peace Group crossed into Turkey.  (They’re all on trial now too).  Viyan, a singer by training, was keeping the beat on his drum as others shouted pro-Kurdish slogans.  So, if the slogans, by the judge’s interpretation, are considered making propaganda, then by logical conclusion (of course) a person whacking a stick on the drum must support those statements.  Therefore, he too, is guilty of violating article 7/2.  Oh, and he’s also been charged with ‘membership in a terrorist organisation.’

Interviewed by DiHA, Mêrxas says this is like a joke.  He says he was only keeping the beat and was there to support the government’s initiative.  He planned on appearing in court with his instrument.  The hearing began last week on 17 June.   This is not the first time someone has been charged for this musical offence.  In Viyan’s case, the charges cross into the realm of absurdity.  I’m not sure how judges take themselves seriously when trying these cases.

Obviously the most serious crime here is throwing a shoe at a world leader.  If you recall, back in February a young Kurdish man threw his size 44 shoe at Erdoğan, who was in Sevilla, Spain at the time to receive a culture award.  Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, was the first recipient of this award back in 2006. The Spanish foundation that sponsors the award chose Erdoğan for ‘his contributions to maintaining international security and peace and cooperation in resolution of international disputes and [his efforts] for improving friendship relations among peoples.’  I could do a whole post on my thoughts around that, but let’s just stick to the court cases.

Hokman Joma

Hokman Joma’s shoe missed the Turkish Prime Minister, but he now sits in a jail in Sevilla on charges of slander, resisting arrest and a crime against an international personality.  If convicted of all three he could see a sentence of three years and eight months and a fine of 1,500 €.  He also runs the risks of being deported back to Syria.  There is supposed to have been a Turkish press conference about this case today, though I haven’t seen any news about it. Joma’s trial begins on Monday.

In an interview with the Spanish press, Joma says his actions were not premeditated and he threw the shoe so that Spaniards would know about the Kurdish situation.  Some may hail the actions of Hokman Joma, but I’m not sure it’s the right way to go about raising awareness of Kurdish issues.  Protests, signs, strikes, letter writing campaigns, blogs, in my opinion, are much better.  He may spend a few years in jail.  Hopefully it will be in Spain and not in Syria.

sources:

Önderoğlu, Erol. Author Güler Sentenced on Behalf of Novel Characters. bianet, 11 June 2010.

Judge asks 13 years imprisonment for ‘making propaganda’ with tambourine. DiHA Dicle News Agency, 19 May 2010.

Poursuivi en justice pour avoir joué du def. Bersiv, 20 May 2010.

Artacho, Francisco. Si España me manda a Siria, me condena a muerte. Público.es, 12 May 2010.

No harmonica lessons for the PKK

Back in February Kurdistan Commentary reported on a US Supreme Court case that involved the PKK. The case went to court later that month and today the Supreme Court upheld a US federal law that bars ‘material support’ to foreign terrorist organisations.

The thrust of the argument was freedom of speech vs. anti-terrorism laws. Free speech lost as the court ruled 6-3 that the government may prohibit all forms of aid to designated terrorist groups, even if the support consists of training and advice about entirely peaceful and legal activities. During arguments in February, Justice Sotomayor wondered whether the material support statute was so vague that ‘teaching these members to play the harmonica would be unlawful.’ Justice Scalia quickly responded that a group of terrorists in a ‘harmonica quartet might tour the [U.S.] and make a lot of money.’ And that was the core of the debate.  And now, it seems, there will be no harmonica lessons for members of the PKK.

Under current U.S. law there is no legal way to aid terrorist organisations, even if the aid is intended to convince the terrorist organisations not to be terrorist organisations anymore, because what if that aid somehow winds up helping them continue to be terrorist organisations? To wit, as Scalia argued, if you teach them to play the harmonica, they will quickly form a quartet, raise money, and fund their terrorist activities.

Kimberly Curtis of the FPA Human Rights blog wrote:

If it is the methods of terrorism that we are so against, then efforts to get terrorist organisations to disarm and pursue their agendas politically should be encouraged. If the pen is to be mightier than the sword, then we must preserve a place for people to talk.

Well, the court has now gone so far in its criminalisation of speech activity that those places for people to talk are quickly evaporating. ‘Aid and assistance’ to terrorist organisations can also be in the form of an op-ed essay written on behalf of a designated terrorist group. What might this mean for bloggers? What happens if you suggest that the PKK has the right to armed struggle against Turkish oppressors? What if you re-publish an interview with Murat Karayilan? Is this ‘material support’?

Three of the Court’s liberal-leaning Justices (Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor) filed a strongly worded dissent, and Justice Stephen Breyer took the somewhat unusual step of reading aloud the dissent from the bench.

Speaking of the aid groups that filed the motion, Breyer said their mission is ‘entirely peaceful and consists only of political speech, including how to petition the U.N.’

‘Not even the serious and deadly problem of international terrorism can require automatic forfeiture of First Amendment rights,’ he added.

Of note is that Elena Kagan, who argued on behalf of the government back in February, is now Obama’s nominee for Supreme Court Justice.

sources:

Grace, Rob. Teaching Terrorists to Play the Harmonica. Foreign Policy Blogs, 26 February 2010.

Center for Constitutional Rights, Arguments on Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

Denniston, Lyle. Analysis: Partial U.S. victory on terrorism, 21 June 2010.

The PKK, US Supreme Court, and freedom of speech. Kurdistan Commentary, 19 February 2010.

The Fading Colour of a Woman’s Hope

Photo from Gündem Online

The fourth editor-in-chief of the only Kurdish-Turkish women’s magazine in Turkey has now been in detention for three months, with a 20-day extension just announced by a Diyarbakır court.  Gurbet Çakar of the magazine Rengê Hêviya Jinê (Colour of a Woman’s Hope), was arrested three months ago by the Diyarbakır public prosecutor’s office when she appeared there to give a statement.  The charges related to her arrest were ‘making propaganda for the PKK via the media.’

In a hearing on 10 June, the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court dismissed the request for her release.  She had previously been sentenced to more than three years in jail.

Çakar’s lawyer, Servet Özen, said that a total of five cases have been filed against Çakar. Servet Özen was also on the legal team that defended Mehdi Tanrıkulu, managing editor of the Kurdish newspaper Azadiya Welat.

Turkish authorities frequently use harsh anti-terrorism laws to stifle freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Turkey, particularly against Kurdish-language publications and Kurdish journalists.

In the case of Rengê Hêviya Jinê, Özen explained that the cases were filed on the grounds of calling imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan ‘leader of the Kurdish people’ and for publishing photographs of him and members of the PKK.

Gurbet Çakar

Özen is preparing appeals on behalf of Çakar. Other charges against the editor include ‘membership in an illegal organisation and committing a crime on behalf of the organisation.’ The case related to her detention will continue on 1 July.

Rengê Hêviya Jinê began publishing in November 2007.  It is a bi-monthly publication with articles that focus on political, cultural and social issues from women’s perspectives.  Thirteen issues have been published despite constant harassment from the Turkish judiciary.  There are currently 16 open court cases involving the magazine and its editors.

Çakar is one of four successive editors to be charged. The first managing editor, Sultan Sonsuz, was sentenced to one year and three months in one of the ‘propaganda’ related charges. Sonsuz is facing imprisonment of between four years and nine months and 20 years in total for the remaining four cases. Her successor, Ruken Aktaş, is facing imprisonment of up to three years and nine months. One trial against Aktaş was dropped. The Diyarbakır 6th High Criminal Court handed down a one year and three month prison sentence to Aktaş’s successor, Sibel Esmer. Esmer has appealed to the decision.

**UPDATE (08 October 2010): Prosecutors have announced they will seek a 20-year sentence in their case against Gurbet Çakar on charges of ‘making propaganda for an organisation, being a member of the organisation and committing crime on behalf of the organisation.’

sources:

Hêviya Jinê, yargı kıskacında. Gündem Online, 11 April 2010.

Önderoğlu, Erol. Chief Editor of Women Magazine Detained since March! Bianet, 14 June 2010.

ROJ-TV offices raided in Belgium

Reminiscent of operations carried out in Turkey, Belgian police yesterday raided ROJ-TV offices in Denderleeuw, smashing computers and broadcasting equipment. Balaclava-hooded agents handcuffed ROJ-TV staff and removed them from the premises.  Those arrested include head of ROJ-TV Gülşen Emsiz, and journalists Burhan Erdem, Devrim Akçadağ and Murat Yaklav. The rest of station’s staff gathered outside of the building to protest the degrading raid.  Some reports say several of the balaclava-clad police that took part in the raid were Turkish-speaking.

ROJ-TV, an international Kurdish satellite station, began operations in 2004 and broadcasts with a licence from Denmark.

Police outside ROJ-TV offices in Denderleeuw

The international satellite station’s management said that they were informed that the raid was carried out in the framework of anti-terror operations, which have swept through Italy and France in recent weeks. There are two primary allegations directed against the station.  One is financial fraud and tax evasion while the other is distributing PKK propaganda, educating PKK members, and recruiting members for the PKK.

An AFP correspondent in Diyarbakir, largest city in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey where ROJ-TV is widely watched, said that the channel’s broadcast was cut on Thursday.  ROJ-TV has now begun broadcasting from Sweden.

Amid Dicle, a ROJ-TV journalist, claimed that this raid was carried out at the behest of the Turkish government. Turkey has long sought to silence ROJ-TV in Europe, using diplomatic pressure to force European governments to stop its broadcasting. This operation was, in fact, launched in coordination with Turkish intelligence.

Last month ROJ-TV won its court case today against the German government, which had tried to close down the channel after a request from the Turkish government.  Germany and Denmark have had strained relations with Turkey in recent years over ROJ-TV.

Police and ROJ-TV supporters clash

Belgian public radio RTBF said some 300 officers took part in raids in Denderleeuw, Brussels, Antwerp and other Belgian cities, raiding 24 Kurdish community centres and  arresting a number of prominent Kurdish politicians including Dr. Remzi Kartal, Zobeyer Aydar, Adem Ozun and Ayub Doru.

In a statement carried by Firat News Agency ‘all Kurds living in Europe’ were urged to ‘come together in Brussels and mount actions of protest against this hostile attack.’

sources:

Belgian police swoop on high-profile Kurds, AFP, 04 March 2010.

ROJ-TV raided, Remzi Kartal and colleagues arrested. Rojhelat, 04 March 2010.

ROJ-TV wins case in Germany

Kurdish satellite television channel, ROJ-TV, won its court case today against the German government, which had tried to close down the channel  after a request from the Turkish government (click here for background information on the case).  A tribunal in Leipzig effectively suspended the ban, asking the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to rule on the case instead. Roj TV is based in Denmark, but its main audience comprises immigrants in Germany.

Germany’s Interior Ministry had earlier warned Roj TV it had no legal right to beam its satellite broadcasts down into the country because it backs the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a group defined as terrorist under both Turkish and German law.

The tribunal said those allegations were valid – but it transpired Germany had no power under European Union law to interfere in operations of a broadcasting enterprise incorporated in Denmark.

Judges said EU broadcasting law meant that it was up to Denmark to supervise Roj, which means “day” in the Kurdish language. Germany could only have shut down the channel if it had issued the broadcast licence in the first place.

The interior ministry had argued that legislation outlawing associations of terrorists made it possible for Berlin to seize the channel’s German assets and prevent its camera teams filming ethnic Kurdish rallies in Germany.

Authorities charged that Roj regularly gave blanket coverage to cultural festivals organized by PKK front organizations.

Turkey, which fought a long and bloody war against Kurdish separatists in the 1990s, has been urging EU nations to crack down harder on offshoots of the PKK, which draws a significant part of its funding from Kurdish migrants working in rich nations.

Source: Kurdish satellite TV channel overturns German ban, Earth Times, 25 February 2010.

More on PKK/Supreme Court case

Last week Soraya Fallah sat down with Ralph Fertig and discussed Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, which is being argued today in the US Supreme Court.  Below is the 2-part video from 17 February 2010.

part 1

part 2

video clips from VOK Radio

See also: The PKK, US Supreme Court, and freedom of speech, Kurdistan Commentary, 19 February 2010.

Tensions high in Kurdistan in run-up to elections

Less than one month remains until the parliamentary elections in Iraq, scheduled for 07 March. Campaigning began in earnest late last week. Said Barham Salih (PM of the Kurdistan Region) on his Twitter page, ‘Election campaigns launched.. festive mood in Kurdistan.’

The ‘festive’ mood has all but disappeared as unrest has gripped the region, especially in the city of Suleimaniya.

Gorran supporter holding up Gorran flag

Gorran (Change) list movement spokesman Muhammed Rahim said that anti-terror units of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) shot at Gorran supporters two nights ago. Gorran claims that three of the wounded were then kidnapped by unknown men from the hospital. Kurdish satellite channel Gali Kurdistan, related to the PUK, accused Gorran of shooting. Reports have surfaced that it was a special unit of the Asayish (security agency) and not the anti-terror unit that was responsible for the shooting.

On Sunday an office of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan (Yekgirtu) was shot at in Halabja. The office of the Gorran list in Shaqlawa was also shot at.

In Erbil, city officials cut the electricity when KNN-TV began broadcasting speeches of Gorran leaders. Later the KNN team was

Kurdistan Islamic Union

arrested and their tapes confiscated by KDP forces.

Commenting on these press freedom violations, Kurdish intellectual and writer Aso Jabar told Reporters Without Borders: “The Kurdish authorities are showing their darkest side through these acts of repression. Real democracies do not oppress their people for using the right to free speech.”

Kurdistan List

There are three major Kurdish parties: the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Gorran (Movement for Change). A fourth party, the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, has five representatives in Baghdad and draws most of its support from the Dohuk region.

The KDP and the PUK are well-established, historical parties advocating Kurdish rights. Together, they form the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan (Kurdistan List) and are currently represented in the Iraqi parliament. They also control the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdish Regional Assembly and are expected to remain united for the 2010 elections. Gorran, a splinter group of the PUK, was formed only in the run-up to the August 2009 elections for the Kurdistan regional parliament and won 25 of 111 seats. Gorran is not expected to align itself with the KDP or PUK before the elections, but observers assume that it will cooperate with them later in order to maintain a strong Kurdish voice in national politics.

Many in the region, however, are fed up and will not vote. A Kurdish friend in Kirkuk sent an e-mail to me a couple days ago in which he said: ‘If we vote or we don’t there is absolutely nothing changed. All we see every time is the same names and the same family. Even if some are not occupying any formal posts, they are still in power and enjoy the absolute authority. There has never been a change and even the so-called ‘Change’ or Gorran Movement is nothing but a chip from the old corrupted block.’

Sources:

Escalation in Suleimani Between Gorran & PUK. Curdonia Radio, 17 February 2010.

Independent journalists harassed, attacked in Kurdistan in run-up to elections. Reporters Without Borders, 16 February 2010.

Myers, Steven Lee. In Northern Iraq, a Vote Seems Likely to Split. New York Times, February 8, 2010.

Shootings in Kurdistan before Iraqi Elections. Medya News, 16 February 2010

Talabani, Barazani call for honest elections. AlSumaria, 12 February 2010.

Tensions in Suleimaniya Grow. Rudaw, 17 February 2010.

The Kurdish Parties. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Human Rights Watch World Report: How do the Kurds fare?

In its recent publication, the 2010 World Report, Human Rights Watch summarises human rights conditions in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide from 2009. It reflects extensive investigative work undertaken last year by Human Rights Watch staff, usually in close partnership with domestic human rights activists.

Below you will find snippets of information about the Kurds from the 624-page HRW report. I only highlight them below. If you want more information and context regarding these references, please download Kurdistan Commentary’s 6-page summary (.pdf) of all references to Kurds in the HRW report.

If you want to read the entire report, or various country chapters, please direct yourself to HRW website. The full report is a free, 4MB download.

The five countries that are mentioned with reference to the Kurds are: Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The chapter on Iran, however, mostly focuses on the elections from last summer. Very little is mentioned about the issues facing the Kurds in Iran.

some highlights:

Armenia
The Council of Europe also issued a report in September 2009 on the situation of minority languages in Armenia, in which it called upon the authorities to “develop a structured policy to make available sufficient teacher training and updated teaching materials in Assyrian, Yezidi and Kurdish at all education levels.”

Turkey
The obstacles to change [vis-a-vis the Kurdish issue] remain clear. Numerous provisions of the current constitution restrict human rights and fundamental freedoms, and a new constitution must be a priority. There were continuing prosecutions and convictions of individuals who expressed nonviolent critical opinion or political views on the Kurdish issue, among other subjects viewed as controversial.

The criminalisation of opinion remains a key obstacle to the protection of human rights in Turkey, although debate is increasingly open and critical.

Restrictions on broadcasting in minority languages were progressively lifted in 2009. January saw the opening of a Kurdish-language state television channel, TRT Şeş, and in November there was an easing of restrictions on private channels broadcasting in minority languages.

Demonstrators deemed supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are treated similarly to the group’s armed militants by courts.

Since November 2007 the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which has 20 members in parliament, has been faced with a closure case pending before the Constitutional Court for alleged separatist activities.

Human Rights Defenders
In Ankara in November lawyer Filiz Kalaycı, former head of the Ankara branch of the Human Rights Association and a member of the association’s prison commission, stood trial with three other lawyers and the head of a prisoners’ solidarity association on charges of PKK membership.

Iran

Treatment of Minorities
In the northwest provinces of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, the government restricts cultural and political activities, including the organizations that focus on social issues. The government also restricts these minorities from promoting their cultures and languages.

Iraq
Serious tensions between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi central and provincial governments continued over control of territories lying between the mainly Kurdish- and Arab-inhabited areas in northern Iraq.

Political Developments
In January 2009, 14 of Iraq’s 18 governorates held provincial elections (the three governorates comprising the Kurdistan region had their elections in July; no elections were held in the disputed Kirkuk governorate).

On June 24, 2009, the Kurdistan National Assembly (the regional parliament) passed a draft regional constitution that laid claim to disputed areas, provoking outrage from central government leaders.

Gender-Based Violence
“Honour” killings by family members remain a threat to women and girls in Kurdish areas, as well as elsewhere in Iraq.

Female genital mutilation is practiced mainly in Kurdish areas of Iraq; reportedly 60 percent of Kurdish women have undergone this procedure, although the KRG claimed that the figures are exaggerated.

Violence against Minorities
As the conflict intensified between the Arab-dominated central government and the KRG over control of the disputed territories running across northern Iraq from the Iranian to the Syrian borders, minorities found themselves in an increasingly precarious position.

Syria
Syria’s poor human rights situation deteriorated further in 2009 and the repressive policies toward its Kurdish minority continue. Security agencies prevented political and cultural gatherings, and regularly detain and try Kurdish activists demanding increased political rights and recognition of Kurdish culture.

Arrest and Trial of Political Activists
The SSSC sentenced over 45 people in 2009 on various grounds, including membership in the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Kurdish activism, membership in unauthorized political groups, and independent criticism of the government.

Arbitrary Detention, Enforced Disappearances, and Torture
The authorities have kept silent about the fate of at least eight Kurds detained since September 2008 on suspicion of ties to a separatist Kurdish movement.

Discrimination and Repression against Kurds
Kurds, Syria’s largest non-Arab ethnic minority, remain subject to systematic discrimination, including the arbitrary denial of citizenship to an estimated 300,000 Syria-born Kurds.

Authorities suppress expressions of Kurdish identity, and prohibit the teaching of Kurdish in schools.

In March police stopped a musical event organized by a Kurdish political party in Qamishli, and security forces broke up gatherings celebrating the Kurdish New Year in Qamishli and Derbassiyeh.

Security forces detained at least nine prominent Kurdish political leaders in 2009