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Turkish Court Gives Kurdish Editor 21-Year Sentence

ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish court has sentenced the editor of a Kurdish newspaper to 21 years in prison for printing what it called Kurdish rebel propaganda, a ruling likely to raise concern about press freedom in the EU candidate country.

It was not the first time prosecutors in Turkey have sentenced editors of the “Azadiya Welat” daily, which in the past has run pictures of the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrilla group, considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.

Turkey's record on media freedom and on rights for its Kurdish minority have long been obstacles in Ankara's bid to become a member of the European Union.

Judges in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the mostly Kurdish southeast, on February 10 found Ozan Kilinc guilty on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda on behalf of the PKK, state-run Anatolian news agency reported.

They said Kilinc had allowed the daily to publish photographs and texts praising the PKK during 12 editions in June 2009. It was not immediately possible to contact Kilinc.

“Radikal” newspaper said “Azadiya Welat” has had to replace six editors in three years since it started publishing in 2006 because the editors had to either flee the country to avoid imprisonment or were jailed.

The PKK, which launched an armed campaign against the Turkish state for Kurdish self-rule, is branded a terrorist organization by Ankara, the EU, and Washington.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly challenged Turkey's harsh antiterrorism laws. Conservative prosecutors and judges are known to interpret antiterrorism laws severely.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party government has expanded the rights of minority Kurds since it took office in 2002. But efforts to launch a so-called "Kurdish initiative" were dealt a blow after the Constitutional Court last year shut down a Kurdish party for what it said were links to the PKK.

Eser Uyansiz, the paper's publisher, told Reuters by phone: "I believe that the pressure implemented on us is contradictory with the Kurdish initiative."

"Limiting freedoms will only harm Turkey and its EU membership efforts as well as its effort for peace with Kurds," Uyansiz said.