Monday, May 17, 2010

166.5 Years' Sentence for Kurdish Journalist Vedat Kurşun

Erol ÖNDEROĞLU- Detained journalist Kurşun, former editorial manger of the Kurdish Azadiya Welat newspaper, was sentenced to 166 years and 6 months imprisonment under charges of "Membership of the PKK" and spreading PKK propaganda".
Journalist Vedat Kurşun, former editorial manager of the Kurdish Azadiya Welat newspaper, was charged with "membership of the PKK organization" and "spreading propaganda for an illegal organization" by the 5th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır (south-eastern Turkey). Kurşun received a prison sentence of 166 years and six months. The separatist PKK organization is listed as a terrorist organization in many countries.

With this decision, the court followed the demands expressed in the final submission of the prosecutor. In the hearing on 13 May, the court decreed to sentence Kurşun to 12 years and eight months, the upper limit for charges of "membership of an organization". He furthermore received a 103 counts' sentence according to article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMY) on propaganda for an illegal organization.

In an announcement made by the Azadiya Welat daily, the decision was described as "illegal" and "politically" motivated. The newspaper urged rights institutions to react to the decision.

Journalist Kurşun was arrested on 30 January 2009 on Atatürk Airport in Istanbul because he had not given his statement in another trial. Kurşun was later on detained and taken to the Diyarbakır D Type Prison, facing heavy prison sentence.

Detained defendant Kurşun attended the hearing together with his lawyers Meral Danış Beştaş, Serhat Eren and Rahşan Bataray. Among the observers of the trial were Kurşun's relatives as well as Eser Uyansız, concessionaire of the Azadiya Welat newspaper, Democratic Society Congress (DTK) Co-chair Yüksel Genç, Gün TV publication director Diren Keser, employees from "free press" and the Diyarbakır Kurdish Institute, and reporter Urtzi Urruti Koetxea form the Berria newspaper published in the Basque region.
Court was not convinced

Lawyer Eren requested to have the translations of the articles subject of the trial re-done since the present translations were made by police officers and because the second translator had said "I have done as much as I could" after s/he had finished with the translations. Nevertheless, this request was dismissed. Eren said in his speech of defence that Kurşun did not intent to spread propaganda by the pictures and articles he published, but that they should be seen within the context of publishing information as part of the basic work of journalists.

Lawyer Bataray reminded the fact that Turkey has signed the European Convention of Human Rights and called the court to decide according to previous decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Beştaş emphasized that his client did not commit a theft, he did not use violence, he did not kill anybody, nor did he encourage others to resort to violence - he merely expressed his thoughts as a journalist. However, the lawyers' efforts could not prevent the heavy punishment.
Facing a long time in prison

Kurşun is currently tried in 32 different cases. Court Prosecutor Yakup Yar had demanded prison sentence of up to five years under charges of "propaganda for an illegal organization" on the grounds of criminal contents in a total of 103 issues of the newspaper. Furthermore, prosecutor Yar had requested imprisonment of up to another ten years for "membership in an illegal organization".

Kurşun was facing a total prison sentence of up to 525 years due to the prosecutor's demand of a103 counts sentence. Prosecutor Yar referred in his demand to certain terms used in the articles such as "Kurdistan", "guerrilla", "martyr", "leader of the Kurdish people" or "respectable Öcalan" besides the publishing of notes made during an interview with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, criticism of the conditions of detention in Imralı prison where Öcalan serves his sentence and announcements of PKK executives. (EÖ/VK)

RSF condems Kurdish journalist sentence
ANF -Reporters Without Borders "firmly condemns the insane sentence of 166 years and six months in prison which a court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir passed yesterday on Vedat Kursun, the former editor of Turkey’s only Kurdish-language daily, Azadiya Welat".

The international organization issued a strongly-worded press release as soon as it learned of the heavy sentence passed on Kursun.

The former editor of Azadiya Welat was convicted under articles 314-3 and 220-6 of the criminal code and article 7-2 of the anti-terrorism law on charges of membership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), regarded by the Turkish government as a terrorist organisation, and spreading PKK propaganda.

“This sentence is absurd,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We support Kursun’s colleagues, who say this was a political trial. We regret the attitude of the Turkish judicial authorities, who are deliberately violating the rights that are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights although Turkey is a signatory.”

In the final hearing, Kursun’s lawyers tried to make the jury understand that the conviction requested by prosecutor Yavup Var violated laws protecting freedom of expression. They also insisted that Turkey should respect the undertakings it has given to the Council of Europe.

Kursun had been facing a possible sentence of 525 years in prison. Although the sentence he was given was much less, it is no less absurd and undermines the credibility not only of this court but also of Turkey’s entire judicial system.

Reporters Without Borders calls for Kursun’s release and urges the European Union to condemn this verdict.

Held since his arrest at Istanbul airport on 30 January, Kursun was given such a long sentence in part because he was convicted on a total of 103 counts of publishing PKK propaganda. An additional 12 years for membership of the PKK rounded off the total of 166 years in jail for just doing his job as a journalist. Aged 36, he would have to live to the age of 202 to complete the sentence.

Azadiya Welat has repeatedly been the target of prosecutions and seizures of its issues. Ozan Kilinç, who took over as its editor after Kursun was tried and convicted on similar charges in 2009, was himself sentenced to 21 years and 3 months in prison on 10 February.