Turkey “allows” Kurdish in court, still prosecutes Kurds unfairly


(Photo: İHA, Aydın Yorat)

KCK hearing in Diyarbakir

24 January, Istanbul: Turkey’s parliament fulfilled a long-standing promise to decriminalize the use of the Kurdish language during Turkish court trials after an intense debate between nationalist politicians and members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The law, which passed 238-41, allows the use of Kurdish in court, but comes with drawbacks. According to the new law, Kurdish is allowed if the defendant speaks it better than Turkish.  Kurdish is only allowed during the court proceedings, not during legal procedures before and after.

Nonetheless, the move has been welcomed by many Kurdish citizens who were constantly disenfranchised by the prohibition of Kurdish in court. A Kurdish citizen on trial for allegedly being part of the KCK was the first to benefit from the new law, when a court in Diyarbakir unanimously voted yesterday to allow the defendant Ali Şimşek to use his mother tongue.

The right to use Kurdish in court has come after a long and defiant battle on behalf of Kurdish prisoners and activists. One of the central demands of the thousands of Kurdish prisoners who were on an extended hunger strike last year was the right to use Kurdish in court, and it was only after the hunger strike that negotiations began to change the laws regarding its use. The prohibition has been lifted only after thousands of Kurds have already been disenfranchised in the Turkish court system by the denial of their right to use Kurdish and express themselves freely.

Turkey’s limitations on the use of Kurdish is a long standing tactic to repress the Kurdish identity. However, the fact remains that even though defendants are now allowed to speak Kurdish in court, many of those Kurds shouldn’t be in court to begin with. The Turkish justice system is hardly more just because it allows defendants to speak their own language; in order to truly prove that it is willing to reform, Turkey must stop unfairly targeting Kurds to begin with.