12 January 2011

Kurdish editor gets 138 years


Emine Demir
Emine Demir
BIANET
Turkey continues to use jail sentences to silence Kurds, handing down an outlandish prison sentence of 138 years to the former editorial manager of Turkey's only Kurdish daily on charges of "spreading propaganda for the PKK", the militant Kurdistan Workers Party, report IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Emine Demir of "Azadiya Welat" was convicted by the Diyarbakir Criminal Court on 30 December on 84 counts - representing 84 items published in 2008 and 2009 that allegedly spread propaganda for an illegal organisation. According to CPJ, the stories mainly covered Kurdish rights. The court decided on an 18-month punishment per count. Additionally, the court sentenced her to12 years "for acting on behalf of a terrorist organisation", reports CPJ. An arrest warrant was issued for Demir, who did not attend the hearing.

On the same day, a three-year prison sentence was handed down to former editor-in-chief Gurbet Cakar of Turkey's only women magazine, "Heviya Jine" (Women's Hope), reports BIANET. She was found guilty of "committing a crime on behalf of an illegal organisation without being a member of the organisation" and "making propaganda for the PKK". Cakar was released after the hearing, having been detained since the middle of March.

"The Turkish authorities must stop punishing journalists who report on Kurdish issues - journalism must not be considered a crime," said CPJ.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), "Azadiya Welat" has been suspended eight times by Turkey's courts, and at least nine of its journalists are currently in prison. Last May, the former editor-in-chief of "Azadiya Welat", Vedat Kursun, was sentenced to 166 years in jail on the same charges. Another former editor-in-chief, Ozan Kilic, received a prison sentence of 21 years last February.

Meanwhile, popular Kurdish singer Ferhat Tunc's aquittal was overturned, reports BIANET. Tunc was originally charged with "spreading propaganda for the [illegal] Maoist Communist Party" (MKP) following a concert he gave in August 2006.

During the concert, Tunc told his audience, "We have to overcome and destroy the fears imposed on us... We want to sing songs of peace freely on our [land] without fear and worry. These clashes must be brought to an end and all of us must do whatever we can. Let us together say 'No!' to war."

"The government's treatment of the country's 14 million ethnic Kurds, most living in the east and southeast, has long been a focus of international criticism and domestic sensitivity," said CPJ.

According to U.K. trial observers, the Turkish government is supporting the prosecutions because many of the defendants are members of the opposition - and this year is another election year.

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