SNP MEP Throws Weight Behind Peace In Kurdistan Campaign

30 March 2009
SNP Member of the European Parliament Alyn Smith has today (Monday) signed a letter initiated by Peace in Kurdistan Campaign (PKC) to Foreign Secretary, David Miliband concerning the unfair trial, conviction and sentencing of the Kurdish politician and former DEP MP, Leyla Zana in December 2008.

Ms Zana was tried under the Turkish Penal Code and the anti-terror law for alleged comments which she made in public speeches, some during her visit to the UK.

Ms Zana's appeal starts on 31st March and the letter calls on the British government to use its influence with Turkey to prevent the incarceration of Ms Zana and urge Turkish leaders to honour their commitments to the Copenhagen Criteria - rules that define whether acountry is eligible to join the European Union.

Ms Zana, an internationally respected figure, has always been a firm advocate of peace between Turkey and the Kurds and has long urged the opening of dialogue for a just and peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question.

The mother of two has always been an advocate of peace and is a recipient of several awards including the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize, and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.

Speaking from Brussels Alyn Smith said:

"I find it the height of ignorance that the Foreign Office has shown a reluctance to indicate their strong opposition to the use of Turkish anti-terror laws to target respected Kurdish politicians such as Leyla Zana.

"In this day and age it seems ludicrous that such a courageous individual who has demonstrated her commitment to the democratic process can be sentenced for simply speaking out for peace. It is time for the British Government to break its silence, speak out and use its influence with Turkey to prevent the incarceration of Leyla who, at the end of this month, will face an appeal hearing which may well result in confirmation of a 10-year sentence. She has already suffered the ordeal of serving 10 years of a previous 15-year sentence for simply expressing herself in her mother tongue, the Kurdish language, in the Turkish Parliament; which was later found to be unfair and unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights.

"Leyla has become the symbol of Kurdish struggle for the recognition of democratic values based on peace and social justice. I signed this letter as she is fully deserving of all our support and there is no doubt in my mind that whatever the outcome, Leyla will continue defending democracy and human rights for a long time to come."

LEYLA ZANA- HISTORY OF EVENTS

In October 1991, Leyla Zana was the first Kurdish woman to be elected to the Turkish Parliament. An extremely popular candidate, she received 84 percent of the votes in her district in Diyarbakir. An advocate of peace and of an end to the civil war raging in southeast Turkey, Leyla protested vehemently against the violence perpetrated by the Turkish Government toward the 16 million Kurds in Turkey.

In March 1994 Leyla Zana and her colleagues Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, Selim Sadak (in July), all Kurdish members of the Parliament, were stripped of their Parliamentary immunity and arrested. Charges of separatism and illegal activities were brought against the four for publicly advocating peaceful coexistence between the Turkish and Kurdish peoples. Expression of Kurdish identity in Parliament and even the colour of their clothes were used as evidence against them.

In December 1994, Leyla was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

In April 1998, the Val d'Aosta Regional Council (Northern Italy) awarded its Woman of the Year Prize to Leyla Zana.

On 26 September 1998, on the very day that the European Parliament launched another appeal to the Turkish authorities for the immediate release of Leyla Zana, the Ankara State Security Court sentenced her to another two years in jail for an article that had appeared in the People's Democracy Party (HADEP) bulletin about Nevruz, the Kurdish New Year. According to the Court, by writing about the distinct identity of the Kurds, their ancestral traditions, and their struggle against oppression and for freedom, Ms. Zana committed the crime of "inciting race hatred".

In April 2008, Zana was sentenced to two years in prison by Turkish authorities for allegedly "spreading terrorist propaganda" by saying in a speech, "Kurds have three leaders, namely Massoud Barzani, Celal Talabani and Abdullah Ocalan." Massoud Barzani is the president of the Kurdistan federal region in Iraq, Celal Talabani is the ethnic Kurdish president of Iraq, and Abdullah Ocalan is the imprisoned Kurdish leader of PKK in Turkey.

In December 2008, Zana was sentenced to another 10 years in prison by the Turkish court. The court ruled that she had violated the Turkish penal code and the Turkish anti-terror law in nine different speeches.