By Jennifer Thompson
The December 8 conviction and heavy sentencing of eight Kurdish deputies of the Turkish parliament completed a long process of systematic suppression by the Turkish military and governing coalition.
Fifteen-year sentences were handed down for five of the MPs, most of whom were members of the now banned Democracy Party (DEP), after they were convicted of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Two MPs were given sentences of 3
55D> years and another a sentence of 7
55D> years for the same offence.
Originally, prosecutors from the State Security Court had charged the MPs with high treason and separatism, which carry the death penalty. These charges were dropped after international pressure, including from the European parliament. The European parliament, which met 10 days after the verdict, postponed consideration of Turkey's customs union with Europe, long awaited by the pro-Western governing coalition, until March.
The verdict completed a long process, beginning with an application to lift the parliamentary immunity of the deputies, which remained inactive for 18 months. The application was passed on March 2, 1994, only after the military chief of staff, General Dogan Gures, made a public statement on activities of the PKK, which is fighting for independence for Turkish-occupied Kurdistan. Stating that there was no need to look for "bandits" in the mountains, he said, "Unfortunately, some of them are under the roof of parliament".
Along with the military, the campaign against the MPs has been led by Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, of the True Path Party which in coalition with the Social Democracy Party has brought Turkey into greater economic integration with the West, including the imposition of austerity as demanded by a World Bank stand-by loan agreement. Campaigning in last year's March 27 local elections, Ciller cited her success in "throwing the PKK out of parliament", calling the Kurdish deputies "traitors". A government spokesperson described the deputies on state television as "terrorists".
The charges levelled at the MPs were based either on speeches or views that they expressed in writing on the problems of the Kurdish people, demanding a peaceful recognition of the culture and identity of the Kurdish people. Only two deputies were charged with concrete offences. Three charges forwarded to parliament for the lifting of parliamentary immunity even included speeches made by deputies while they were visiting the United States and related to finding a solution to Turkey's "Kurdish problem".
One of the charges levelled against Selim Sadak, DEP elected deputy for the city of Sirnak, was related to remarks made in a parliamentary motion, although the constitution rules that deputies have immunity for views expressed in this body. Sadak was asking for an investigation into the 1992 violence in which Sirnak was fired upon by security troops. This incident had led to the city's depopulation by around 17,000.
Leyla Zana, one the DEP deputies sentenced to 15 years, and the first Kurdish woman to be elected to the Turkish parliament, wrote in a letter smuggled from the Ankara prison: "Turkey has a tradition under which politicians are periodically arrested and thrown into prison after a military coup. But even against this background, the actions taken against me and my Kurdish parliamentary colleagues are something new. This is the first time that under a so-called civilian government elected representatives are being intimidated with the threat of capital punishment.
"... In such circumstances, a parliament no longer deserves its name and it is no longer possible to believe in Turkish justice."
Following the sentencing, members of the European parliament and human rights representatives called for Turkey to be expelled from the Council of Europe. Two Turkish human rights leaders are now on trial for similar "offences".