European MPs are denied access to ‘landmark’ Kurdish trials in Turkey


Reuters Ibon Villelabeitia reports on Turkey’s refusal to allow European MPs to attend the trial of Kurdish defandants in what some say are landmark cases regarding the Kurdish question in Turkey:

Euro MPs say they banned from Kurdish trial

(Reuters) – Diyarbakir, Turkey – A Turkish court banned a delegation of European Parliament members from attending a trial of Kurdish activists and politicians seen as a test of Ankara’s democratic credentials, a Euro MP said on Friday.

Richard Howitt, a Socialist MEP on a visit to the city of Diyarbakir in the mainly Kurdish southeast, said 10 members of a delegation of the Party of European Socialists, including two members of parliament, were denied access to the trial.

The defendants, accused of illegal activities including ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, have been told they cannot defend themselves using the Kurdish language.

“It is extremely worrying that the one thing we have been able to witness today is a continuing confrontation over the use of the Kurdish language, which has prevented the proper conduct of what are said to be landmark trials,” Howitt said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

“It is impossible for us to comment on whether or not these are political prosecutions, but it is right for us to protest against the judicial decision to prevent observers from seeing the cases proceed in the defendants’ absence.”

Turkey has applied to join the European Union, but progress has slowed in recent years due to a dispute over the divided island of Cyprus. The EU has also said Turkey must improve minority rights. Howitt was on a fact-finding mission to Turkey.

The 151 people accused, of whom 104 have been held in custody, could face jail sentences of 15 years to life if found guilty. The trial began in October.

Prime Minister Taayip Erdogan launched an initiative in 2009 to expand cultural and political rights for Kurds in an effort to help end a conflict between PKK rebels and Turkish security forces that has killed 40,000 people since the 1980s.

President Abdullah Gul, who visited Diyarbakir at the end of December, has urged the Kurds to put their faith in the democratic system, rather than be led by any militant agenda. / Editing by Matthew Jones