Interview: Roj TV, ECHR and Wikileaks
In July 2013, I penned a piece about the trial of the Kurdish TV-station Roj TV at the Supreme Court in Denmark and its alleged links to PKK. I wrote about the dubious grounds that the final verdict was based upon and how I found it to be marred by a political agenda; leaked cables on Wikileaks confirm this.
The Supreme Court suspended Roj TV’s broadcasting license, thereby bringing an end to the TV-station’s work. Roj TV, considered the voice of the Kurds, had been silenced after years of police investigation that accelerated when former Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, made preparations to apply for the job as NATO’s next general secretary, a move likely to be vetoed by Turkey who since 2005 had been pushing for Denmark to close Roj TV.
Formal charges were brought against the TV-station in August 2010, which led to verdicts deeming the TV-station “a mouthpiece for terrorism”, and opposition against Roj TV from major parties in Denmark. Despite filing for bankruptcy due to the heavy fines encompassed by the High Court’s verdict consolidated by the Supreme Court, Roj TV announced that it was taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France.
To shed light on the matter, I spoke with Bjørn Elmquist, Danish lawyer for Roj TV, and Henrik C. Winkel, Danish lawyer emeritus and former head of board at Roj TV and asked them about the past trials, Wikileaks and the future of Roj TV.
Lawyer Bjørn Elmquist has since 1980 worked extensively with Kurdish conditions. He was back then a member of the Danish parliament and additionally became member of the Council of Europe’s parliamentarian assembly. He became head of legal affairs where questions regarding the situation in Turkey grew with strength after the military coup and then general Evron’s assumption of power. He has been on fact-finding missions in Turkey, visited the infamous Diyarbakir prison and met with Kurdish and Turkish politicians.
Lawyer emeritus, Henrik C. Winkel, has like Elmquist worked extensively with the Kurdish conditions for many years; he was one of the founders of Roj TV. He says that the work with Roj TV made him realise that Kurds were persecuted and suffering under the regimes in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. It led him to be engaged in the Kurdish cause. He says, “[…] I have also felt with my heart that this was worth doing something about.” He is a former head of board of Roj TV.
I asked them what they thought Roj TV meant to the Kurdish people, and Elmquist said,
“I hardly think one can underestimate the value of Roj TV to the Kurds and their will to have an identity, what I would call the Kurdish struggle, that must not be confused with any form of terrorism. It happens too often that it is lumped together. When you say the Kurdish struggle is justified, then people say, oh, you’re thinking about terrorism and PKK. No, struggle in a broader sense.”
“It [Roj TV] was the voice of the Kurds. For the first time, Kurds had a voice in the world. […] I have met many who have said they watched the channel and it was where they got their information that made a connection to their lives as Kurds. And that is what they are missing today.”
In my article from 2013, I emphasized on the prosecution’s use of information provided by US-government funded think tanks and organisations about PKK as I found that it put into question the objectivity of the trial. The official court document from the Supreme Court stated that the trial was focused first and foremost on one point: Is the PKK a terror organisation? On page 92, it reads:
In order to be found guilty as charged, PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, The Kurdistan Worker’s Party) has to be a terror organization according to penal law.
I asked Elmquist how this subject was covered in court.
“An expert witness was used in both the City Court and the High Court from CTA, Center of Terror Analysis which is a department of PET [Danish Intelligence]. He had a very specific task, he explained in court many times, because when I asked him about other operations than those on his list or I asked about specific operations, if he had any knowledge about them or could confirm if there were other [groups] that at a later point turned out to be responsible [for the operations], be it Ergenekon or secret groups like the Grey Wolves and so on, who operated under what we call false flag operations, he said he knew nothing about it because the prosecution and the PET had not told him to investigate it […]. Even then I was able to conclude in those court instances that this was a case of commissioned work and hence not an unbiased witness.”
“Additionally, a lot of the information he was using came from American sources. There is a factor that is very interesting, it is the Kingpin Act, an American decision or provision where you have a number of Kurds and other people with alleged links to PKK in their positions of narcotics traffickers and complicit in drug crimes […] The curious part is that none of these people have ever been found guilty […] None of them have been found guilty, they have just been listed according to the Kingpin Act as drug criminals which goes against the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty. And if there is no verdict, you cannot go around saying such things. Everything confirmed my assessment that this was not a case of impartial witnesses or evidence. But I could not get through to the court […].”
“It is one of the problems with Western democracies. In our belief that everything is as democratic and correct as can be, we are caught in many weak points where we do not consider that the system in cases like these, I am not saying all cases, are politically motivated and directed. In this case, it was the highest authority, the Public Prosecutor, who had to make an appeal to the Minister of justice whether or not the case should move on, and the Minister of justice decided it should. The Minister of justice is the head of the prosecution but also a political authority: if a Danish minister of justice or the Danish government has a majority against them in parliament, he cannot continue [on the post]. This means you are dependent upon a political majority. So this is a prosecution under the control of a political authority, a majority in parliament, that has raised charges […] and then you risk the case bearing the marks of a political mission that has to be completed and this is a very big flaw in Western judicial systems.”
Winkel also commented on whether or not the link between PKK and Roj TV was sufficiently illustrated.
“It was clarified well enough for the Supreme Court to determine that there was a connection between PKK and Roj TV. What I am personally wondering and wondered throughout the process is that when we are in a situation where our product, our broadcasts have repeatedly been evaluated by qualified authorities, the Radio and TV board, and found not racist and not encouraging violence or all the other things named in the convention that are forbidden, well, then it is indeed impressive that they say, “yes well, you are still not allowed to have that voice” which the Kurds had. In other words, in my opinion, they are restricting their freedom of speech. And you can say, yes, PKK is in an American regard and internationally registered as a terror organisation, but so much is.”
European Court of Human Rights
Since the first verdict in City Court in January 2012, Roj TV has exhausted its options for appeal trials after appearing in the High Court and Supreme Court. Now they are taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Elmquist says it is because ECHR is an integrated part of the Danish justice system. There, you do not owe the Danish government or the majority in Danish parliament anything, he says. It is especially relevant as the Roj TV case is similar to many of the cases brought up at ECHR. Elmquist mentions that it is typically Turkish decisions that are challenged at the court in Strasbourg, for example when Turkey’s Radio and Television Higher Board (RTUK) closed Ozgur Radio for “violating the principle of indivisible unity and inciting hatred in the society”.
“The two countries that have the most cases [at ECHR] are Turkey and Russia. Russia is quite bigger than Turkey in number of inhabitants, so the country with most cases is Turkey. It is an embarrassment for Denmark to have a case of this character that bears resemblance to the cases against Turkey. It is not 100% sure that the [Roj TV] case will appear before court, but it is likely. It runs like a red thread through the case law of the court and the verdicts, that the two most important regulations in the convention is article 10, the driving force behind democracy, freedom of speech, press and information, and article 3, the prohibition of torture.”
Documents on WikiLeaks confirmed that an agreement about Roj TV was made in 2010 between a Turkish representative and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark, now Secretary General of NATO. Berlusconi, former PM of Italy, openly said that Fogh promised to close Roj TV.
I asked Elmquist if he would use the Wikileaks information before the court in Strasbourg.
“I already did it during the case. First in the City Court, then in the High Court and I also brought it up at the Supreme Court, although it was not the entire case that I could present, unfortunately. I was prevented from it, but that is another case. It is correct that I included Wikileaks and I went over them [the cables] and the questions that had been asked in parliament, the Danish parliament, from different politicians to different ministers of justice about this connection with Wikileaks; that I wasn’t prevented from doing. And it should be brought up in Strasbourg; it already will in that they will go through what has happened in the Danish courts. So Wikileaks will be mentioned. And what we saw in the Wikileaks documents was, I think, the game between what I am calling the Bermuda Triangle […] between the American embassy in Ankara, in Copenhagen and State Department in Washington, USA, and we can see day for day, month for month, reports that go one, two, three ways and where it ends up with, just before charges were brought [against Roj TV], a visit to Copenhagen by an interagency delegation from Washington consisting of various ministries, authorities. I have never been able to find out precisely who took part in this interagency delegation that came to explain to the Danish prosecution what they should do […].”
Outcome of trial
I asked Elmquist what the consequences would be in case Roj TV received a favourable verdict in Strasbourg.
“It would be a relief to the media in Denmark. […] They were afraid to go into it [the Roj TV case], and they probably struggled to put themselves in the same situation, which I think is a mistake. They should realise that this is a big ball game. We have here a medium with a potential of 28-30 million people, and what do we have in the Danish media? Some have a potential of less than 5 million. They should have made it clear to themselves just based on that that this is a case that bears great significance for all media, both mass media and smaller media. That is why I think it would be a relief to them at some level if we got the case tried and the verdict is in our favour.”
“It would be a serious lesson to the Danish judicial system, because I said on the first day we were in City Court with this case in august 2011, that here we have Roj TV in the dock, we also have the question about Kurds, we have the question about PKK but there is also the question of whether or not the Danish justice system is solid enough to handle a case like this. Claims have been made, I have not been able to prove them, but the claims are known, they have not been dismissed or discussed 100% that there was a political connection between a former Danish Prime Minister [Anders Fogh Rasmussen] who ideally would become General Secretary for NATO. The USA wanted it and the Turks did not want it because Roj TV was broadcasting from Denmark. When the deal fell into place, that they would bring a charge against Roj TV, inspired by the American way to handle this case, a green light was given for his [Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s] appointment.”
“The day when it was announced at a press conference held by the Justice Minister in Denmark, at 1.30 pm, August 31st 2010, I think it was, that a charge would be brought against Roj TV, the former Prime Minister and his successor held a press conference in Copenhagen at 3 pm, I think it was 2,5 or 1,5 hours after [the Justice Minister’s press conference about Roj TV] that Turkey has given the OK. That was a peculiar coincidence.”
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