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Turkey: Judiciary Moves Against Ocalan, Kurdish Party

  • Jolyon Naegele

Ankara, 25 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey's judiciary held two trials involving Turkish Kurds consecutively in the same state security courtroom in Ankara yesterday before the same three-man panel of judges.

The court reconvened the cases after lengthy recesses and then recessed them again until late April.

The first case involves 18 leading members of Turkey's only legal ethnic Kurdish party, the People's Democracy Party (HADEP). The second case is that of Abdullah Ocalan, captured leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The 18 HADEP leaders stand accused of organizing demonstrations supporting Ocalan. In the courtroom, four guards holding machine-guns -- two facing the defendants and two facing spectators -- surrounded the 18. The crowd of spectators comprised about 140 reporters, diplomats and relatives.

Turkey's Constitutional Court rejected two weeks ago a state prosecutor's request to ban HADEP. Parliamentary elections are due in Turkey April 18 and HADEP has a chance to win gains in regions of southeastern Anatolia where ethnic Kurds are the majority. Turkish law forbids parties based on ethnicity or religion.

The Ocalan trial began in 1997, while Ocalan was still a fugitive in Syria. Last month, Turkish special units captured Ocalan in Kenya and returned him to Turkey. He currently is imprisoned on Imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara south of Istanbul.

The court refused a request by Ocalan's lawyers to bring the PKK leader to Ankara for trial in a civilian court instead of the state security court. Instead, the court decided to move the trial to Imrali Island, where Ocalan is the only prisoner, as soon as a high-security courtroom can be readied.

This isn't the main trial against Ocalan. The date for that, in the words of one Western diplomat, "is still in the stars." It would come only after prosecutors prepare a new indictment based on Ocalan's confessions to investigators. Yesterday's hearing concerned comments Ocalan made in a broadcast on the pro-PKK London-based satellite station, Med-TV, that allegedly incited PKK attacks. British authorities this week suspended Med-TV broadcasts for three weeks following several programs they said contained incitements to violence.

In contrast to the HADEP hearing, at yesterday's proceedings on Ocalan the defendant was not present and there were no machine guns in view. The plaintiffs' corner was crowded with some 20 lawyers representing the interests of large groups of relatives of soldiers, policemen and civilians who were killed in various attacks by the PKK. With some two dozen relatives of victims present, the judge read out the names of hundreds of others whom he declared co-plaintiffs.

Many of the relatives of victims draped themselves in Turkish flags and some held framed portraits of their lost loved ones. The judges allowed relatives of the victims to speak their minds, regardless of whether they were sitting in the gallery among reporters and diplomats or with their defense attorneys. The relatives bemoaned their losses. A police officer's widow denounced the presence of Ocalan's three lawyers on the grounds that Ocalan as a "mass murderer" should have no right to a defense attorney -- to the loud applause of the other relatives.

Turkish authorities blame Ocalan and his PKK for the deaths of some 30,000 people over the last 14 years, including some 20,000 PKK members, some 5,000 civilians and some 6,000 soldiers, policemen and pro-Turkish village guards.

The chief defense attorney, Ahmet Okcuoglu, argued that the charges were vague because they didn't refer to any specific incidents provoked by Ocalan's televised remarks.

Okcuoglu complained that Ocalan's right to legal defense is being hampered. His defense lawyers have been permitted to spend only three hours with him since his involuntary return to Turkey on February 15. The lawyers said conversation with their client has been limited to Ocalan's health and world events and that security guards are always present. Okcuoglu also complained that he and his two colleagues were being treated in the courtroom as if they were defendants rather than defense attorneys.

Observers expect all court proceedings against Ocalan to be merged into a single trial.