Van Bommel: Freedom of expression for Kurdish politician

9 December 2008

Van Bommel: Freedom of expression for Kurdish politician

SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel is urging Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen to sign the protest against the condemnation of the Turkish-Kurdish politician Leyla Zana. Zana was given a ten year prison sentence by a Turkish court as a result of statements she has made over the last ten years on the Kurdish question in Turkey.

The Turkish-Kurdish politician stated that imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan is a leader of the Kurdish people. On the grounds of this statement the court concluded that Zana is a member of the PKK. On the grounds that the PKK is a banned organisation, the judge gave her ten years. According to Harry van Bommel, this is an abuse of the freedom of expression. “Leyla Zana has committed no crime; what she has said has displeased the Turkish government. This is undemocratic. The minister has to let the Turkish government know this."

This isn't the first time that Zana has been given a ten year sentence. In 1991, she was elected to the Turkish parliament for a pro-Kurdish party. She took the oath in Kurdish, which was against the law. The consequence was that she had to give up her seat, her party was banned and she was given a ten year prison sentence, a punishment which she served and which was later extended because she wrote a letter to the press, in Kurdish, from her prison cell. She was released in 2004.

In 1995, while still in prison, she was awarded the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament's human rights prize. On top of the prison sentence, she was deprived of the right to vote. She was forbidden from participating in elections, from standing as a candidate. This ban has been imposed just before the local elections in Turkey, which will be held next March. Zana has been nominated for mayor of the major Kurdish town of Diyarbakir. “Turkey must meet universal standards of freedom of expression and other civil rights. The Dutch government must ensure that Turkey abides by these rules."

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