Jury fails to agree on verdict in trial of Kurdish journalist

Renas Lelikan in the mountains of Kurdistan.

NSW Supreme Court judge Lucy McCallum discharged the jury on December 6 after it failed to agree on a verdict in the trial of Kurdish journalist Renas Lelikan on “foreign fighter” charges under Australia’s draconian “anti-terrorism” laws.

Lelikan denied this charge, insisting he was not a combatant but a journalist reporting on the Kurdish liberation struggle.

A February 15 hearing will be told if the prosecution intends to ask for a re-trial. Lelikan remains free on bail, with relaxed conditions.

The case had been going on for nine weeks, four of which have been taken up with the jury’s deliberation.

Phillip Boulten, the barrister representing Lelikan, asked the judge to make a ruling on the lesser charge of being a member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is still controversially officially listed by the Australian government as a “terrorist organisation”.

Lelikan had entered a guilty plea to this charge at the start of the trial. However, the judge declined to make a judgement on this charge on the grounds that it could impact on the prosecution’s case, should it pursue a new trial on the foreign fighter charge.

This case has a great political significance for the cause of Kurdish liberation. Earlier this year, the European Union General Court annulled the EU 2004-2017 listing of the PKK as a “terrorist organisation”.

It should prompt a reality check for Western governments including Australia, US and Britain that also unfairly added the PKK to their list of banned “terrorist” organisations.

The PKK and politically sympathetic Kurdish-led forces in Syria and Iraq are the strongest on-the-ground military opponents of Islamic State/Daesh terrorists and have helped liberate many towns and villages from its oppressive rule.

The Kurdish community in Australia has followed the case closely, with members of the community having maintained a strong and dignified presence in the court throughout the trial.