“If lawyers can’t do their job for fear of arrest, that’s a country with no democracy or rule of law and a pariah among the nations of the world”. Human rights barrister Margaret Owen OBE last night addressed a well-attended London meeting of British lawyers and others opposed to Turkey’s mass political show trials.
The trial of 36 lawyers – illegal under Turkey’s 1961 Lawyers Act – is one of a series of prosecutions of Kurdish political and human rights activists, trade unionists, students, journalists and legal representatives accused of involvement with the umbrella Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) and, thereby, of ‘terrorist offences’.
The lawyers were arrested because they represented Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader who has been held in solitary confinement since 1999. Their spurious indictments are based partly on illegal monitoring by the state of their meetings with Ocalan. Many of them were beaten up in police stations and now there is only one lawyer representing Ocalan left at liberty.
Margaret attended the trial in July. “It was held in the smallest room in the largest court house in Europe”, she said. This was meant to deter other lawyers – from Turkey (both Kurds and Turks) and across Europe – who came to show solidarity. The case was adjourned until 6th November when it is expected that the defendants will be sentenced.
Ali Has, a UK-based Kurdish solicitor also attended this trial and he had some ‘breaking news’ for the meeting. A Turkish MP from the opposition CHP had just publicly revealed the protocol that was agreed by representatives of the Turkish intelligence agency (MIT) and the PKK during their secret Oslo negotiations. One article in this protocol states that detained Kurdish legal and media representatives should be immediately released.
“This proves that the KCK operation was political”, said Ali, arguing that it was started during the peace talks by those within the Turkish state who don’t want negotiations to succeed.
Tony Simpson, director of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, attended another KCK trial of around 200 people at Silviri prison. One of the defendants is his friend, Ayse Berktay, an anti war activist and BDP supporter.
Tony described the intimidating paramilitary police display outside Silviri, Europe’s largest prison. Inside, defendants were packed into seats at one end of the courtroom while a smaller group of relatives and supporters sat at the other end beneath microphones hanging from the ceiling to monitor their conversations.
Many defendants had been separated from their families for a year and they were waving and blowing kisses to children and loved ones. “The judge seemed cynical”, said Tony, “and mainly concerned with not letting things get out of hand”.
“Around the world, 12,000 people are imprisoned for ‘terrorist offences’ – one third of them are in Turkey”, he said.
Barry White from the National Union of Journalists explained how the British government can be pressured to take a stance against this persecution. It wants to expand trade with Turkey but a recent House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report says that Turkey’s poor human rights record is a significant barrier to trade. Government minister Ken Clarke recently broke ranks with the UK foreign minister by conceding to a constituent that: “These latest trials are very worrying to friends of the country”.
A member of the audience pointed out that most of the two million Britons holidaying in Turkey every year know nothing of the repression of the Kurds. If more people knew what was happening, there could be a boycott campaign against Turkey like the one against apartheid South Africa. Estella Schmid, from Peace in Kurdistan, called on different organisations to work together and build a united solidarity movement.