New petition launched to remove Kurdistan Workers Party from terrorist list

Activists are calling on the Australian government to de-list the Kurdistan Workers Party as a "terrorist organisation". Photo: Peter Boyle

The Federation of Democratic Kurdish Society-Australia launched an online petition calling on the Australian government to de-list the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a “terrorist organisation”.

Australians for Kurdistan, Rojava Solidarity Sydney, North and East Syria Solidarity as well as progressive parties, including the Greens and the Socialist Alliance are showing their support.

The PKK has been fighting for the freedom of the Kurdish people, an oppressed minority nationality in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. While the PKK has carried out an armed struggle since 1984, it has also implemented at least four unilateral ceasefires, the first in 1993 and the latest in 2013 when it began withdrawing its armed units to camps in Northern Iraq.

The PKK has dropped its demand for an independent Kurdish state and now calls for autonomy within a democratised Turkey.

The preamble to the petition states: “The PKK seeks to enter into direct negotiations with the Turkish government. Its acknowledged leader, Abdullah Öcalan, jailed in Turkey since 1999, will play a key role in any such negotiations and the PKK wants his harsh conditions of imprisonment significantly eased to facilitate this.”

The federal government first added the PKK to the list of prohibited organisations in 2006 after Turkey’s dictator President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Australia. It was re-listed last August.

Being listed a “terrorist organisation” makes it illegal for Australians to be a member of the PKK, raise funds or actively support it. This is a serious restriction on Kurdish Australians’ freedom of political expression.

The Australian Federal Police and ASIO have raided the homes and community centres of the Kurdish community in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Kurdish-Australian journalist Renas Lelikan was arrested and charged with being a member of the PKK in 2016, after reporting on the Kurdish freedom struggle from the Middle East.

Lelikan was eventually convicted of being a member of the PKK, however, in her sentencing in 2019 NSW Supreme Court Justice Lucy McCallum recognised that “the ideology of the PKK as expressed in the writings of Abdullah Öcalan has more in common with the values of our democracy than it does with extremist violent jihad”.

The government’s listing of the PKK left the court no choice but to convict Lelikan, McCallum said “there was no available evidence that the PKK seeks to harm Australians or Australia’s democratic institutions. Nor is there evidence to suggest that Australia faces any threat from the PKK”.

“Whilst I accept that support for terrorism is inherently serious, the ideal of self-determination espoused by the PKK is not the most dangerous ideal of our times.”

The supreme court of Belgium ruled in 2020 that the PKK is not a terrorist organisation.

Two Labor MPs on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security issued a dissenting minority report, after the PKK’s terrorist listing — the first and only time the committee has been divided over whether an organisation should be listed.

Greens MPs and independent MP Andrew Wilkie support the calls for de-listing. NSW Greens MP Jamie Parker told Green Left: “The PKK poses no risk to the people of Australia. The listing denies the important role it can play in a peace process and its key role in the defeat of ISIS.

“The Australian Greens opposed the original listing of the PKK under the John Howard government in 2005. Delisting the PKK would give extra impetus to a peace process between the Kurds and Turkey. The leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, can play an important role in a peace process and should be released from his inhumane imprisonment.”

Melbourne-based activist and Co-Chair of North and East Syria Solidarity Fionn Skiotis told GL that the new petition was part of an international campaign. The Belgian Supreme Court decision was “one of the first cracks in the crumbling of this ridiculous labeling of the PKK as a terrorist organisation, which it is not”, he said.

Labelling the PKK a terrorist organisation helps the Turkish state continue to oppress the Kurdish people. “In Turkey, people can be sent to jail for simply saying a Kurdish expression, or singing a Kurdish song because this can be presented as some form of support for ‘terrorism’”, Skiotis said.

“Many Kurdish politicians, who were democratically elected, have been removed from office and jailed because they are claimed to be supporting PKK ‘terrorism’. It is used in an international context by Turkey to justify its now very open warfare against the Kurdish people, right across Kurdistan.

“The recent attacks in North and East Syria and in Shingle in Iraq and in Kurdish areas in Turkey are justified by Turkey as acts in pursuit of ‘terrorists’. As long as the listing of the PKK remains in countries like Australia and its allies in the West, Turkey will be able to use that excuse to continue its war on the Kurds.”

[This article was first published in Medya News. Sign the online petition here.]