ANKARA (Reuters)–A Turkish court on Tuesday handed down a jail term to a leading member of a pro-Kurdish party for aiding the Kurds–amid Western criticism over the country’s shaky human rights record.
"I was given four years and six months and banned from travelling to abroad," Mehmet Satan–deputy chairman of the People’s Democratic Party told Reuters.
Satan said he was convicted for "aiding and abetting" the Kurds–the Kurdistan Workers Party–because he had referred to its leader Abdullah Ocalan as "Mr. Chairman."
"I called Ocalan ‘Mr. Chairman’ in a discussion program on Med-TV (a Europe-based pro-Kurdish television channel) according to the rules of courtesy," Satan said.
Ankara state security court charged and convicted him in half an hour at the first and only hearing of the case–he said.
"I was shocked when I heard the conviction. I did not even know what the charge was–because the court had not sent me or my lawyer the prosecutor’s indictment beforehand," Satan said.
Satan said he would appeal the court’s decision.
In June–31 members of HADEP–including chairman Murat Bozlak–were convicted for the same charge and given sentences of up to six years in jail. They are appealing against the convictions.
HADEP–which advocates a non-violent campaign for Kurdish rights–was formed in 1994 after another pro-Kurdish party was banned and six of its members were jailed for links to the PKK.
The conflict between Turkish troops and the PKK who are fighting for self-rule in the southeast–has taken more than 27,000 lives since 1984 when the rebel group first took up arms.
Turkey has long drawn condemnation from European countries over its heavy-handed tactics in the conflict and its treatment of the rights activists.
Western criticism of Turkey’s rights record reached a peak last week with the imprisonment of 52-year-old activist Esber Yagmurdereli–jailed for more than 23 years for speaking out on the Kurdish problem–and rights watchdog leader Akin Birdal–sentenced to one year for separatist propaganda.
Germany and Britain have expressed concern over Yagmurdereli and Birdal and German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel warned Turkey that taking such steps would harm Ankara’s longstanding ambition to enter the European Union.