This past Thursday a Turkish court sentenced Leyla Zana, a Kurdish politician and human rights activist, to ten years in prison for “committing crimes on behalf of a terror group.” The court also stripped Zana of her right to vote and run for political office. Zana was a potential mayoral candidate in Amed (Diyarbakır) from the Democratic Society Party (DTP). Regional elections in Turkey will be held in March 2009.
Zana, 47, was the first Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish parliament. In 1991 after being sworn in as an MP she said in Kurdish, “I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people.” In 1991 speaking Kurdish in a public space was a criminal offense. As an MP she had parliamentary immunity, which protected her from being charged with crimes against the state (speaking Kurdish fell into that category).
However, a few years later, Zana’s Democracy Party was banned. Consequently Zana lost her immunity and she was arrested, charged with treason and membership in the PKK, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
She spent 10 years in a Turkish jail cell, suffering abuse and torture. During her incarceration Zana was awarded the Rafto Prize, the Sakharaov Prize, and the Bruno Kreisky Award. She also published a book titled Writings from Prison.
Her release in 2004 came amid warnings from European institutions that her continued imprisonment would negatively affect Turkey’s efforts to join the EU.
Today she stands convicted of “membership in a terrorist organization.” The Turkish Chief Prosecutors Office’s reasoning goes something like this…Zana has stated that Abdullah Öcalan is the leader of the Kurdish people. Turkey says that the PKK is a terrorist organization. Zana is Kurdish. So by their reasoning if Zana says that the “leader of a terrorist organization” is her leader (since she’s Kurdish), she is therefore a member of a terrorist organization. Logic at its best.
Leyla Zana’s arrest has been reported around the world. Some sample headlines include…
German press: Zehn Jahre Haft für kurdische Politikerin
French press: Dix ans de prison pour la femme politique kurde Leyla Zana
Swedish press: Leyla Zana dömd till 10 års fängelse
Arab press: السجن عشر سنوات لناشطة كردية بتهمة علاقتها بحزب العمال
Yet the US giant, the NYTimes, has only a rather short, vague, paragraph about Zana’s arrest. Have a look:
Turkey: 10 Years for Kurd
By Sabrina Tavernise
Published: December 4, 2008
A Turkish court sentenced a Kurdish activist to 10 years in
prison for what prosecutors said was “making propaganda for a terrorist
organization,” the state-run Anatolian News Agency reported. The activist, Leyla
Zana, is a former lawmaker who spent a decade in jail in the 1990s for what
Turkish authorities said were links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K.,
the separatist group that has been fighting the Turkish military in the
country’s southeast for decades. Ms. Zana was released in 2004, and was
convicted on Thursday for saying, among other things, that the P.K.K.’s struggle
was for “freedom and democracy.”
Does this reflect ignorance? Apathy? Fear of the Turks? Shame on Sabrina Tavernise, current NYT Bureau Chief in Istanbul, for such careless reporting. Tavernise’s paragraph does not do justice to Zana’s struggle for Kurdish rights in Turkey.
Regarding her recent sentencing, Zana sent the following statement to the EU Turkey Civic Commission:
“The case against me is a violation against freedom of thought, and represents a
threat to every Kurd in Turkey. The decision of the court is just another way to
repress, silence and punish the Kurds. The mentality governing this country is
that problems can be resolved by anti-democratic and repressive means and that
unfair trial can provide political and social peace. But despite all this, our
people will claim their legitimate rights, and will continue to struggle for
this as long as it takes”.
–Turkish Kurd Leyla Zana’s Statement to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Organized Rage, 10 October 2008, http://www.organizedrage.com/
–Leyla Zana, the only Kurdish woman MP, interview with Leyla Zana, http://chris-kutschera.com/A/leyla_zana.htm
–Court jails Kurdish politician Leila Zana over speeches, Today’s Zaman, 05 December 2008
–Kurdish Political Prisoner Leyla Zana Released After a Decade in Jail, Democracy Now!, 10 June 2004, www.democracynow.org/2004/6/10/kurdish_political_prisoner_leyla_zana_released
–Kurdish Spokesperson and EUTCC Patron Leyla Zana Convicted to Ten Years in Prison by a Turkish Court, Kurdish Aspect