Turkey: Prolonged imprisonment of Leyla Zana and others allows injustice to continue

Amnesty International criticised the new proceedings as a replay of the original trial, designed to uphold the original verdict.

Amnesty International delegates observed several sessions of the retrial and reported practices that were apparently short of international fair trial standards.

The chief judge displayed a pre-formed opinion about the case, initially opposing the retrial as he believed the initial trial did not contravene the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although he was overruled by two other judges, he continued to preside over the case.

The human rights organisation said that the sentencing today to 15 years’ imprisonment represents a missed opportunity to end previous injustice.

Amnesty International voiced serious concern about the fairness of the retrial’s proceedings and called on the Turkish authorities to abolish the State Security Courts in order to ensure that Turkish justice meets international standards.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Today’s decision represents a staggering failure of Turkish justice. An opportunity to end the unfair detention of Leyla Zana and others has been missed, and instead the injustice of their imprisonment has been compounded by a second unfair trial.”

Amnesty International members around the world have been campaigning for the release of the four former deputies of the Turkish parliament since they were sentenced in December 1994 to 15 years' imprisonment for membership of an illegal armed organisation, the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).

Amnesty International adopted Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and Orhan Dogan as prisoners of conscience.

The organisation considers the prosecution to have been motivated by a decision to punish the four former deputies who had based their non-violent political activities around the Kurdish question. For further information see Amnesty International report Turkey: The colours of their clothes - parliamentary deputies serve 15 years’ imprisonment for expressions of Kurdish political identity, available on the Amnesty website www.amnesty.org .

The retrial of the four former deputies started in April 2003. It resulted from a Turkish law introduced in February 2003 that allows for new trials of individuals where Turkish court proceedings had been found by the European Court of Human Rights to have been in violation of the ECHR.

Although Amnesty International believes that the former deputies should have been released unconditionally, the retrial offered the opportunity to end the injustice of their continued imprisonment.

However, court proceedings have apparently violated the four individuals’ right to a fair trial in the same way as the original verdict in 1994 that imprisoned them, which the European Court of Human Rights condemned in 2001.

Although the military judge present in the original trial has been removed from State Security Courts, this is not enough to ensure that a trial is conducted according to internationally agreed standards of fairness.

While Amnesty International welcomes the measures the current Turkish government has introduced in the area of human rights protection, this verdict - and those in many other trials - raise important concerns regarding State Security Courts.

Amnesty International therefore calls on the Turkish government to abolish State Security Courts to meet international standards and to take steps for the immediate and unconditional release of Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and Orhan Dogan.

Background

The retrial repeated aspects of the first trial of Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and Orhan Dogan, which the European Court of Human Rights ruled in July 2001 was unfair. Amnesty International observers at the retrial noted several additional areas of concern including:

  • The State Security Court has continually refused to suspend the prison sentences of Leyla Zana, Orhan Dogan, Hatip Dicle and Selim Sadak and release them on bail pending the verdict of the retrial - despite the fact that they have already been imprisoned for nine and a half years;
  • The different approach of the State Security Court to witnesses, lawyers and evidence of the defence and those of the prosecution, including the denial of the right of the defendants and their legal representatives to cross-examine the witnesses who testified against them.

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