53 Mayors in Turkey are convicted in trial for writing a letter to the Danish PM


Turkey’s violation of civil liberties continues with the latest development in the charges brought against 56 mayors for writing a letter to the Danish prime minister requesting him not to shut down the Kurdish broadcast station, Roj-TV, in Denmark after being pressured by Turkey to take it off the air.

When Turkish prosecutors initially raised the case, the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen found it “shocking” that a country seeking EU membership could place their own public officials on trial for simply writing him a letter.

After multiple requests from the Turkish radio and TV authority, the Denmark Media Secretariat, an institution of the Denmark Ministry of Culture, issued a document that concluded that none of the complaints justified closure of the Kurdish broadcast station. In fact, it was concluded in the document that although the station often shows violent footage in its broadcasts as claimed, “they represent the violence that actually exists in Turkey and in Kurdish areas.” They concluded that although the broadcasts may have an “unpleasant effect on the Turkish authorities,” they are completely “unexaggerated” and there are no proofs that the station is causing “incitement” through their reporting.

Despite these rulings, the station remains banned in Turkey, and Turkish courts have convicted the mayors for practicing a basic freedom of speech and for agreeing with the rulings of the Denmark Ministry of Culture. From the Associated Press:

Turkey convicts 53 Kurdish mayors for backing Denmark-based TV station

2008-04-15 15:41:34 –

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – A Turkish court on Tuesday found 53 Kurdish mayors guilty of praising a criminal group because they asked Denmark to let a television station with alleged links to Kurdish guerrillas continue to operate there.

The mayors described the case against them as a free speech issue, but Turkey views Kurdish rebels as terrorists and believes Europe is not doing enough to curb sources of support among Kurdish expatriates.

Most of the mayors are members of the Democratic Society Party, a political group that faces possible closure for alleged links to the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which seeks autonomy for the large Kurdish population in southeast Turkey. The case against the mayors will be used as evidence in the case against the party, said Muharrem Elbey, a lawyer for the Kurdish mayor of Diyarbakir, the biggest city in southeast Turkey.

The state is divided over whether the possible scrapping of a party with 20 seats in Parliament would strengthen the rule of law or push a new wave of alienated Kurds out of the political mainstream and into guerrilla ranks.
The court in Diyarbakir sentenced the mayors to two months in prison, but later commuted the sentence to fines of 1,835 Turkish liras (US $1400 or 1900), citing the mayors’ good behavior during the trial. Three other mayors were acquitted. The mayors said they would appeal.

The politicians were indicted in 2006 after writing to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to request that the Roj TV station be kept on air in Denmark. Turkey says the station is a propaganda machine for the rebels.
Turkey has been under pressure from the European Union to strengthen the rights of Kurds, a non-Arab people distantly related to the Iranians. They constitute about 20 percent of Turkey’s population of at least 70 million.
Rebel commanders often joined the station’s broadcasts by satellite telephone from mountain hideouts in northern Iraq, and the station broadcasts images of rebels training or attacking Turkish soldiers. The rebel group, also known by its Kurdish initials PKK, has been listed by the European Union and the United States as a terrorist organization.

The mayors have denied supporting the PKK rebels.

The mayors’ letter was an appeal for a Kurdish-language television station to remain on air, said Elbey, who represents Diyarbakir mayor Osman Baydemir. They never praised the content of the broadcasts.

Elbey said that if the appeal fails, he will consider taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. The court’s decisions are binding on Turkey.

The prosecutor initially wanted the court try the mayors for aiding and abetting the PKK, but reduced the charge to praising a criminal group. The earlier charge carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence.

By Goran Sadjadi