Kurdish Hunger Strikers in Strasbourg End the Hunger Strike after 52 Days

The hunger strike in Strasbourg has ended after 52 days. A press release from the hunger strikers state that the hunger strike has reached its goal, and the action is therefore ending  as of today”.

Photo: Rojhelat.info

The statement also stressed the continuous struggle of the hunger strikers for the release and well-being of the Kurdish leader Abdulla Ocalan and the freedom of the Kurdish people, also in the future.

The statement comes after a press conference in the European Parliament attended by the MEP Jürgen Klute, Coordinator of the European Parliament – Kurds Friendship Group amongst others.

Also present at the press conference was winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and member of the Turkish Parliament Leyla Zana.

Leyla Zana stressed the importance of the preventing casualties stemming from this hunger strike and declared that the many meetings had been conducted with members of the European Parliament to ensure a quick resolution and adherence to the demands put forth by the hunger strikers.

Also present at the press conference was hunger striker Nigar Enayati, a norwegian citizen and former Red Party (Rød Valgalliance) Oslo Municipal Council member. She called on the CPT* to listen to as soon as possible visit the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan on the prison island of Imrali in Turkey. Ocalan has been in isolation for 270 days, during which has been denied visits from both his family and lawyers.

The European parliament ensured to look into the health condition of Ocalan and called upon the hunger strikers to finish their action.

A question which was raised by an attending journalist, in which he questioned the sincerety of the European Union in adherring to the demands of the hunger strikers despite    the promise made, was answered by panel by stating that if the demands are ignored the campaign will continue!

Press conference in the EU parliament regarding the Kurdish hunger strikers

*CPT= The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment or shortly Committee for the Prevention of Torture

Irish human rights academic, Kevin Boyle, passes away

Kevin Boyle

Kevin Boyle, regarded as one of Ireland’s and the UK’s leading human rights academics, passed away on Sunday. Below is a column from Today’s Zaman (by Orhan Kemal Cengiz), Kevin Boyle, Öcalan’s picture and unsolvable Kurdish question, which pays tribute to Professor Boyle’s contributions to defending Kurdish rights.  Boyle became a civil rights leader while at Queen’s University in the late 60s and was active in People’s Democracy and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.  He also served as the director of human rights NGO Article 19, acted as special advisor to Mary Robinson during her time as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and practised as a barrister in the UK.

Kevin Boyle, Öcalan’s picture and unsolvable Kurdish question

After being captured and brought to Turkey, Abdullah Öcalan’s pictures were all over all newspapers in Turkey. At that exact time, I was attending a fact-finding hearing before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In those photos, Öcalan appeared before a huge Turkish flag, looking quite confused and concerned.

Early photo of Kevin Boyle

During the break of the hearing I was looking at these photos. Kevin Boyle, who was the leading lawyer on our side, approached me to see what I was looking at and after having a very short glance of the picture of Öcalan, he made that comment I would never forget: “Abuse of power,” he said.

Kevin Boyle, professor of law and the then-director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Essex, had quite a sharp intelligence and was an extremely talented lawyer. He brought hundreds of cases before the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey on behalf of Kurdish villagers whose villages were destroyed, whose relatives were forcefully disappeared, who were severely tortured and who were subjected to so many other terrible human rights violations in Southeast Turkey.

The first time I heard Kevin’s name was in 1996 when I was the director of the Human Rights Center of the İzmir Bar Association. It was really very interesting to see that in almost all major cases against Turkey before the European Court of Human Rights, two British lawyers’ names appeared on the judgments, namely Kevin Boyle and Françoise Hampson. While I was following this fascinating link I found myself in London working on European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) cases.

Kevin, Françoise and some other British lawyers had played an extremely significant role in forcing Turkey to give an account for what it did in Southeast Turkey. Without having these lawyers, it would not have been possible to force Turkey to come before the European Court of Human Rights. Kurdish lawyers, who were trying to bring village destruction and other cases involving horrific human rights abuses to court, were themselves victims of harassment and intimidation in the 1990s. Not only the safe distance of British lawyers from Turkey, but also their mastery of advocacy, the drafting of legal documents, cross examination and most of all their unshakable belief in human rights, greatly helped everyone seeking justice before international human rights mechanisms. Many people wanted to see a political bias on the part of British lawyers for these cases against Turkey, but before Turkey, Kevin gave the United Kingdom a very hard time on cases before the ECtHR for cases coming from Northern Ireland.

If you look at these cases in which Turkey were condemned by the European Commission of Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights (especially those that were delivered in the 1990s) you can see everything from brutality to complete denial, from impunity to the to deep state, from a totally collapsing legal system to the blatant denial of Kurdish identity. In short, you can see everything that contributed to the creation of the Kurdish question and the keys for solving it.

If you really would like to understand why we still are unable to solve the Kurdish question today, just read all these terrific stories narrated in those judgments delivered by the ECtHR. Today, people are not kidnapped in broad daylight, people are not disappeared after being taken into custody, villages are not destroyed, but neither have we witnessed any apology for all those terrible things that happened just 10-20 years ago in Turkey. We have not yet confronted what created the so-called Kurdish question yet. Yes, today Turkey is taking important steps in the direction of democratization, in becoming a state of law and so on and so forth, but we cannot see a radical shift that will bring us face-to-face with our history of traumas. We even cannot face what happened in the Southeast, the root causes of the Kurdish problem.

If we really faced our history, with the hell that created all these judgments from the European Court of Human Rights, today we would have really appreciated what Kevin Boyle did for Turkey. I respectfully bow before the memory of this great man, Kevin Boyle, from whom we all learned a lot and who we lost on Sunday. Thank you Kevin for everything you did to bring justice to the countless victims of human rights violations in Turkey and everywhere else in the world. Rest in peace, we will always remember you.

Syrian Kurds in Europe, 2010: migration, asylum, and deportation

This report was authored by Christian Sinclair and submitted to Kurdistan Commentary for publication.

Syrian Kurds at court in France (Jan 2010)

In a briefing paper published by The Institute of Race Relations in London from October 2010, it was reported that the list of unwanted peoples in Europe continues to grow and ‘the latest group to be targeted is of Syrian Kurds, many of whom were politically active in Syria and forced to flee its notorious security services.’

The year 2010 started with hundreds of asylum seekers, many of whom were Syrian Kurds, landing on the island of Corsica. The year is ending on a sad note with news that a Syrian Kurd committed suicide at an asylum centre in Denmark. Between the two events were hunger strikes, trials, arrests and deportations.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides protection to any foreign national from being deported to a country where there is ‘a risk that the deportee would face torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.’ Under article 3 of the ECHR, acts of torture or ill-treatment carried out by the receiving state remain the responsibility of the deporting state.

Though the European Court of Human Rights has strongly reaffirmed the principle that no circumstance, including the threat of terrorism, can justify exposing an individual to the risk of serious human rights mistreatments, many Kurds from Syria continue to be forcibly returned from Europe to Syria. It is unconscionable that these forced deportations still occur. And worse still that Syrian Kurds seem to be targeted specifically for removal from European soil.

Ramazan Hajji Ibrahim hanged himself on 12 December 2010 at an asylum centre in Denmark

Jawad Mella, Chairman of the Western Kurdistan Association in London, has said that, ‘a sentence for a person [who] applied for asylum and had activities for the rights of Kurdish people will be sentenced to unlimited years in prison as a traitor of the Syrian State.’

The law in Syria provides for the prosecution of any person who attempts to seek refuge in another country to escape a penalty in Syria. The government routinely arrests dissidents and former citizens with no known political affiliation who have returned to the country after years or even decades in exile.

The Kurdish minority in Syria, some 10% of the population, faces severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression, and systematic and pervasive human rights abuses by the Ba’athist regime. A state of emergency has been in force since 1963, giving the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge.

Why then do European nations continue to deport Kurds back to Syria, knowing full well that they are at risk of ‘torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment’?

This report focuses on some of the many cases involving Syrian Kurds in Europe during the past twelve months, examining their plight as asylum seekers, European indifference to the repression they face in Syria, and the reasons why many Kurds leave Syria.

France

On Friday, 22 January 2010 a boat landed in Bonifacio on the island of Corsica with 123 passengers, most of whom were Kurds from Syria. On board were 57 men, 29 women (five of whom were pregnant), and 38 children who were dropped off on a remote beach by traffickers. They were then taken to five detention centres by French authorities on the mainland: Marseille, Lyon, Rennes, Nîmes and Toulouse.

Migrants told the court in Lyon they fled Syria because, as Kurds, their rights were abused there and that they planned to file for asylum. 35-year-old Jumsid Ali, one of the Kurdish refugees, said, ‘In Syria I was not considered human. I risked my life to come to France and I am sure that if I return to Syria, I will risk death.’

The interior ministry said that as soon as the migrants filed for asylum applications, any local procedure to deport them was overruled. The asylum process can take months.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned the group of Kurdish migrants detained in France, however, that they would be expelled if they were not genuine asylum seekers.

On 26 January judges ruled their detention illegal and ordered they be released so they could apply for asylum. Many then left for the UK, causing an uproar amongst British politicians.

UKIP Euro MP Gerard Batten said: ‘Once again the French are exporting their illegal immigration problem to Britain. If these are illegal immigrants the French should be sending them back to Syria or wherever they came from.’

Norway

Abdulkarim Hussein

On 19 August 2010 Norway forcibly deported Abdulkarim Hussein, a Syrian Kurd from Aleppo. Hussein, born in 1959, had applied for asylum in Norway in 2006, but it was denied.

Jan Erik Skretteberg of SOS Rasisme in Norway had said of Hussein’s imminent deportation: ‘Involvement in [our] organisation means that Hussein’s life is in danger if he’s not granted permission to stay in Norway. Hussein is Vice Chairperson in The Association of Syrian Kurds in Norway and has been very active in the struggle for human rights in his native country. The Syrian authorities know this, and this activity is regarded as criminal by the Syrian authorities.’

Abdelkarim Hussein was arrested immediately upon arrival in Damascus by Syrian authorities and later transferred to Al Fayha Prison, run by one of the many branches of Syrian security. Hussein was subjected to beatings, repeated punches to certain parts of the body, pressure to the testicles, harassment, threats and isolation during the time of his detention. Abdulkarim Hussein had been subjected to torture in Syria several times before fleeing to Norway in 2006 and Norwegian authorities knew he was at high risk of repeated torture.

Amnesty International reported that on 02 September 2010 Hussein was released from custody without having been charged. Less than one week after his release, Hussein managed to leave Syria secretly, and fled to Turkey across the border, arriving on 08 September 2010 where he applied to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for international protection.

Several people in Norway are still working actively for granting Abdulkarim Hussein refuge there.

Cyprus

Kurds on hunger strike in Nicosia, Cyprus

In mid-May 2010 the Kurdish community in Cyprus began what was to become a nearly one-month long protest and hunger strike. 250 Kurdish asylum seekers from Syria, including 65 children, had been living in bright orange and green tents pitched outside the Interior Ministry in Nicosia, the Cypriot capital, for almost four weeks to try and obtain refugee rights and bring attention to the condition of Kurds in Syria.

Their protests ended when Cypriot police and security officers raided their makeshift camp. The protestors were arrested, put into buses and transferred to detention centres.

Police detained 149 of the protestors along with all their belongings. Of the 42 children taken in, 13 were released with their parents and another three were expected to be released. Eighty-two, however, were found to be in Cyprus illegally following a rejection of their asylum applications and were facing certain deportation.

A local Cypriot NGO, KISA, stated in a press release regarding the protestors, ‘The Kurds are now in danger of being deported back to Syria, where for sure at least some of them will end up in Syrian jails.

On 11 June, twenty-seven of the Kurds were forcibly deported back to Syria.

The Kurdish Organisation for Defending Human Rights and Public Freedoms in Syria (DAD), reported in late October that Syrian security services arrested three Kurds who had been deported back to Syria from Cyprus: Rakan Elias Junbuli (deported about five months before his arrest), Mohammed Sheffa Junbuli (deported about a month before his arrest), Hassan Elias Junbuli (deported about a week before his arrest). At the time of DAD’s report, Hassan was being held by Syrian security services, and Mohammed and Rakan were in the Central Prison in al-Hasakah.

In another case, Faiz Adnan Osman and his wife Adla returned voluntarily from Cyprus in early August 2010. They were both arrested upon their arrival in Damascus. Adla Osman was released after a brief period of detention, but Faiz Osman was not released until 18 November. Syrian intelligence services accused them of taking part in demonstrations and sit-ins held in Cyprus. Reports from Gemya Kurda state there is information that Faiz Adnan was subjected to physical torture.

On 04 December 2010, members of the Political Security Directorate in al-Hasakah summoned and arrested Ciwan Yusuf Muhammad (b. 1982). Muhammad was one of the twenty-seven Kurds deported from Cyprus in June 2010, and had to give up his passport at the Damascus airport. He was then interrogated by various intelligence services.

Denmark

Tent in front of Danish Parliament where Kurds held a three-week hunger strike

On 14 September 2010 a group of 28 Kurds from Syria began a hunger strike at Christiansborg Slotsplads in front of the Danish Parliament building.

One of the Kurds on hunger strike explained, ‘If you have been in a Syrian jail once, you’ll do everything in the world not to end there again.’

After about three weeks the hunger strike came to an end. Many of those who participated had to be hospitalised. Their health was one of the reasons they called off the strike, but there was another very important factor as well: Roj TV had aired a programme about the hunger strikers after which Syrian security forces began harassing and threatening their families back at home.

The group’s spokesman, Kek Ibo, said that the Danish government and the opposition parties will share responsibility of the fate of those forcibly deported to a dictatorship like Syria.

On Wednesday 22 September 2010, Adnan Ibrahim was deported to Syria after 18 months in Denmark where two-thirds of his family lives. Ibrahim’s sister, Golizar, said that her brother disappeared after two Danish police officers handed him over to the Syrian police at Damascus Airport.

In another case from Denmark, the Danish government deported Abid Mohammed Atto on 15 November 2010 after he was refused asylum. He was born in 1982 and is a stateless Kurd from Derik. He was detained for 20 days before being deported. A group of activists went to the airport to ask the Danish police to stop the deportation, but were unsuccessful.

Abid Mohammed Atto

Abid Mohammed Atto went to Denmark on 15 August 2009 to escape the repressive practices of the Syrian intelligence services, especially as he does not have Syrian nationality. He is currently held in the cellars of the Syrian security branches.

Another Kurdish asylum seeker, 26-year-old Ramazan Hajji Ibrahim, tragically took his own life at the Auderød Asylum Centre in Denmark. Many suspect he was too afraid of what might happen to him if Danish authorities carried out the deportation order against him.

Kurdish societies in Denmark have been in contact with Ramazan’s parents and agreed to arrange a funeral in Copenhagen. The Kurdish organisations there had started to arrange all the formalities for repatriation, however the request was refused by Syrian authorities on the grounds that Ramazan Hajji Ibrahim was not a registered Syrian Arab Citizen; he was a stateless Kurd. His funeral was yesterday, 18 December, at the Kurdish Cultural Association in Copenhagen.

Switzerland

In Switzerland, Kurdish detainee Sarbast Kori began an indefinite hunger strike on 22 November at a prison in Thun to protest Swiss government’s plans to deport him back to Syria. After ten days, Kori was hospitalised in Bern after he lost consciousness. He is also suffering from psychological trauma resulting from the fear of being forcibly returned to Syria.

Germany

On 03 April 2010 Anwar Daqouri, a Kurd from Syria seeking asylum, was arrested by German authorities whereupon he was transferred to a deportation prison. The German government said they would deport him within three months. Daqouri had previously been arrested in November 2009.

Another Syrian Kurd, Farouk Al-Issa, was picked up by German police on 21 June 2010 and sent to a deportation prison near Hanover. His deportation date was set for late August. Mr. Farouk Al Issa had taken refuge in 2004 to Germany, but his request for asylum was rejected.

So why are Kurds from Syria leaving for Europe to seek asylum?

Anwar Daqouri, site manager at Gemya Kurda

Western diplomats, Kurdish political leaders, international organisations, and local journalists have identified several key reasons. They are discrimination, regional instability, and political and economic factors.

The worsening human rights situation coupled with the government’s systematic prevention of economic development in the region leave few prospects for a decent future. This is especially true for the stateless Kurds, who may not have easy access to health care, education and work. Severe drought in the northeastern part of Syria has devastated the economy of the area.

Many Kurds too have strong ties to Kurdish communities in host countries of migrants, which contributes to further migration.

An international organisation says that the Syrian government systematically favours the out flux of Kurds and ordinary Kurds are not prevented from leaving the country unless their departure is perceived as a threat to national security. It is presumed that the authorities encourage emigration of Kurds in order to reduce the Kurdish concentration in the north‐eastern region.

Kurdish political parties generally do not want any Kurd to leave the Kurdish regions in order not to have the demographic composition changed, which has been the government’s aim since 1962.

Many have left the country via a smuggler ring operating out of the Western port city of Lattakia. In order to be able to operate it is highly probable that the smuggler ring pays off the security services, as they are the ones who control all movement of ships in and out of the harbour. The Syrian security services are aware of these networks and in some cases might even be facilitating some of the smuggling.

Sources:

Sarkozy talks tough about migration. Times of Malta, 27 January 2010.

Schittly, Richard. A Lyon, les Kurdes syriens goûtent à la liberté. Le Progrès, 27 January 2010.

Le combat des réfugiés kurdes débarqués en Corse. Paris Match, 26 January 2010.

Fagge, Nick. Migrants Freed to Head for Britain; French turn blind eye to illegals. The Express, 26 January 2010.

YASA reports, April 2010, May/June 2010

Country of Origin Information Report: the Syrian Arab Republic, Section 31: Exit and Return. UK Border Agency/Home Office, 03 September 2010.

Syria: Syrian Kurd freed after two weeks in custody. Amnesty International (Index Number: MDE 24/024/2010), 05 September 2010.

Accelerated Removals: a study of the human cost of EU deportation policies, 2009-2010, Briefing Paper No. 4. Institute of Race Relations, October 2010.

Press statement: Abdulkarim Hussein arrested upon arrival. Support Kurds in Syria, 22 August 2010.

Abdulkarim Hussein was tortured in Syrian captivity. SOS Rasisme, 22 November 2010.

Shahan, Hassan. Denmark: Young Syrian Kurd Commits Suicide in Asylum Center. ekurd.net, 16 December 2010.

Forcibly deported Kurd from Denmark probably jailed and tortured. Support Kurds in Syria, 02 October 2010.

Human rights issues concerning Kurds in Syria. Danish Immigration Service (DIS) and ACCORD/Austrian Red Cross, May 2010.

Stateless Kurd deported to Syria from Denmark. Rojhelat, 21 November 2010.

Kurds in Cyprus face deportation to Syria. Kurdistan Commentary, 14 June 2010.

الاعتقال التعسفي يطال السيد جوان يوسف محمد Shril-Sy.info, 12 December 2010.

إعتقال مدير موقع كميا كوردا أنور دقوري لإقامته الغير شرعية في ألمانيا Gemya Kurda, 04 April 2010.

European Court of Human Rights: An absolute ban on deportation of foreign citizens to countries where torture or ill-treatment is a genuine risk. International Journal of Constitutional Law, (2010) 8 (2): 311-322.

Al-Hasakah: Political Security arrests deportee. Kurdwatch, 17 December 2010.

Non-political Kurds at risk on return to Syria. Support Kurds in Syria, 13 November 2010.

إضراب مفتوح عن الطعام للمُعتقل سربست كوري في سجن تون بسويسرا PYD Rojava, 26 November 2010.

نقل سربت كوري المضرب عن الطعام في السجون السوسرية الى أحد المشافي في مدينة بيرن PYD Rojava, 05 December 2010.

مجلس عزاء الشاب رمضان حاجي ابراهيم في مقر الجمعية الثقافيّة الكُرديّة في الدانمارك Gemya Kurda, 15 December 2010.

Press Statement from UK Delegation at Diyarbakir Trial

Press Statement from UK Delegation in Diyarbakir to observe the trial of 151 Kurdish political activists and human rights defenders:

We, as delegates from Britain of varying backgrounds and ethnicities welcome the opportunity that has been afforded to us to have firsthand insight into these historic trials. During our observations thus far we have had the opportunity of meeting and speaking with Mayors, Parliamentarians, Lawyers, Academics and many other interested parties. This has given us the opportunity to explore at firsthand the issues in these trials and have helped to shape our understanding of the actual meaning of these trials.

We had firsthand experience of being in the Courtroom with the 151 defendants and their 250 lawyers yesterday and today. We can confidently express our observations thus far in the following manner:

Conversations about tomatoes must be some secret code

Turkey, in its desire and aspiration to become a member of the European Union has not shown that it has progressed very much in terms of its treatment and approach to the Kurdish people, their politicians and the Kurdish question generally so as to pave a way forward for peaceful dialog and solution. We are confident in finding that these trials are politically motivated and are an attempt to suppress the political struggle of the Kurdish people through the judicial system.

The manner in which the evidence in the trials is exaggerated is clear from the sheer volume of the 7,500 page indictment and supporting evidence, consisting of over 13,000,000 pages.  In these pages there is no evidence of weapons or aggression in any kind directed at any of the defendants who stand trial. The only evidence obtained consists of intercept evidence of daily conversations and routine political propaganda or views and secret evidence by way of anonymous witnesses. Some conversations are in relation to the purchase of groceries i.e. tomatoes and in others the conversations are between family and friends. These conversations have found itself in the indictment as being secret codes. The fact that there is no evidence or suggestion of weaponry or aggression is in our view indicative of the will of the Kurdish people and politicians for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue, which we support and respect.

We find the manner in which the evidence was obtained and presented to the defence, which was some 15 months after the initial arrests on the 14th of April 2009, to be a concrete example of the unfairness of the trials thus far. A large proportion of the defendants are in custody, which has meant the defence has had very limited time to prepare the case for the trials in the 4 months since they received the evidence. We find this to be a breach of Article 6 of the ECHR.

The refusal to allow the defendants to express themselves in their mother tongue, Kurdish, is a denial of their basic human rights and is a breach of Article 6.

The real problem with this is that the charge is essentially a political one, whereby normal political activities such as lobbying, meetings and rallies are deemed to be criminal because it is said to be in support of a banned organisation, the PKK.

From what we have gathered, activities from elected representatives such as Mayors and general civil society organisations representatives organising events such as Women’s day celebrations on the 8th of March, Kurdish New Year festival, Nevroz, and campaigning for an environmental society, have been deemed criminal activities and placed within the indictment. Clearly, by any standards, activities such as those mentioned are completely lawful and innocent.

We have particular concern that 8 of the defendants are lawyers – 7 of which are in custody – and are indicted in this case simply for doing their job of defending their clients. In a modern society this is unacceptable.

At the very least, the fact that most of those in prison are leading members of a political party which had been successful at the last elections suggests that there is a straight forward electoral motive for the Turkish governing party the AKP, to support these prosecutions particularly as there is another election next year. If the Turkish government wishes to demonstrate that Turkey is a modern and democratic state it should urge the prosecution to release those in prison immediately.

At its worst it is a wholly political trial, to destroy or curb all activities and initiatives developed within the Kurdish population, and demolish its key institutions and vital civil society organisations.

Paradoxically, as Mr. Esber Yagmurdereli, a distinguished lawyer defending in this trial submitted to the Court yesterday, “…this case is brought by the public prosecutor, to prosecute the public…”

UK delegation: Mr. Jeremy Corbin MP, Mr. Hywel Williams MP, Mr. Ali Has – Lawyer/Spokes person of Peace Council Britain, Mr. Hugo Charlton – Barrister, Mrs. Margaret Ann Owen – Barrister/Human Rights Activist and Serife Semsedini – Human Rights Activist.

Source: Kurdish Aspect (graphics added by Kurdistan Commentary)

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

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.

Spanish campaign raises awareness of Kurdish political prisoners in Syria

In late January of this year a letter addressed to the President of the Government of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, was registered at the Moncloa Palace, the official seat of the Ministry of the Presidency. The letter outlined the plight of Kurdish political prisoners in Syria and asked for Spain’s assistance.

…we respectfully request your intervention with the Syrian government, with whom the Spanish government has excellent political relations, to recognise the state in which political prisoners in Syrian jails find themselves, and to request the release of all prisoners of conscience, seeking especially to investigate reports of torture and ill-treatment and, in its relations with the Syrian authorities, demand that international norms are respected in the treatment of prisoners.

We also ask that you investigate the mysterious deaths of some 34 Syrian soldiers of Kurdish origin (since 2004) while doing their military service.

The letter was sent by Zinar Ala on behalf of 1,075 Spanish citizens and Kurdish residents of Spain who signed it.  There are approximately 1,500 Kurds living in Spain, half of whom come from Syria. Those who signed the document were politicians, journalists, teachers, academics, students, doctors and activists in NGOs, as well as ordinary citizens.  Zinar, a Kurd from Efrîn, is a Spanish resident, dedicated  human rights activist, blogger, and energetic campaigner against the regime in Damascus.

In October and November of 2009 Kurdish prisoners in Adra Prison near Damascus went on a hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions of the prison.  Protests and sympathy strikes were held across Europe.  Says Zinar, ‘I wanted to echo these strikes in Spain.  And taking advantage of the fact that Spain is currently Chair of the Presidency of the European Union, I thought I could do something for the political prisoners in Syria.’

The Kurdish minority in Syria, some 10% of the population, faces severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression, and systematic and pervasive human rights abuses by the Ba’athist regime. A state of emergency has been in force since 1963, giving the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge (Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 Report).

Despite documented evidence to the contrary, Syria is under the illusion that is has realised great progress in promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms in the past decade. As proof of Syria’s renewed and strengthened commitment to human rights, they say, was the recent agreement reached with the European Union, which ‘would not have been possible if not for the European Union’s admiration and firm belief that the level of human rights in Syria was satisfactory,’ said Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, Permanent Representative of Syria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Early in May, Zinar and the other signatories to the letter received a response from the chief of staff of the Presidency of the Government of Spain, José Enrique Serrano Martínez, in which he states that Zapatero is concerned about the situation of prisoners in Syria.

[A]s you know, the promotion and protection of human rights is among the priorities of our government’s foreign policy. In fact, this priority is integrated across the board in all our policies and relations with other states.

In this context, Syria is, as you mention, a close country and friend. Thus, Spain takes advantage of the opportunities available to bring up to local authorities the cases of human rights of most concern to our government and our citizenry.

Martínez  added that Spain ‘has raised on numerous occasions its interest in the situation of several human rights defenders, as well as other prisoners of conscience’ and that ‘many of these efforts have resulted in satisfactory results.’

He closes saying that he can assure those who wrote the letter ‘that the Spanish government will continue to monitor all cases of concern for human rights in Syria.’

click photo to open .pdf from Rudaw

While Zinar Ala is not overly optimistic that the Spanish Government will be able to sway Syrian authorities, or even attempt to, he says that at least actions like this one have made it into the Kurdish press.  This is important as it gives hope to those Kurds living in Syria, knowing that someone on the outside is fighting for their rights and freedom.

Said Zinar,  ‘If the Spanish government had warned the Syrian authorities to respect human rights, perhaps we would not have had two casualties and many wounded in the last Newroz festival in al-Raqqa.’

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos was in Syria last month holding talks with Bashar al-Assad, but it is doubtful he referred to the situation of human rights in Syria.  However, Spanish Ambassador to Turkey, Joan Clos, on the other hand, is pressing for reform and a resolution to Kurdish issues in that country.

sources and related articles

Another Kurdish Soldier Dead in Syrian Army. Firat News Agency, 03 June 2010

Committee Against Torture Begins Examination of Report of Syria. The United Nations Office at Geneva, 03 May 2010.

Mil firmas piden a Zapatero ayuda para los presos políticos de Siria. Cuartopoder, 10 March 2010.

Serokwezîrê Spanya Ji Ber Rewşa Girtiyan Li Suriyê Xembar e. Rudaw, 24 May 2010.