On 20th November, “Totensonntag” (last Sunday before Advent on which the dead are commemorated), a group of a hundred policemen ransacked the grounds of the German-Mesopotamian education centre in the Kreuzberg area of Berlin, and searched over a hundred people participating in a memorial ceremony. Then, according to an announcement by Kurdistan Solidarity Berlin, all cash over fifty Euros was seized. On that day the organization had made a collection for the victims of the earthquake in Van.

According to police statements, it was no more than a “routine check” which happened to take place on a Sunday. One can reasonably presume that the raid was connected with the ban put on a demonstration, which was supposed to take place on eighteenth anniversary of the PKK-ban.

The story of the ban on the 26 November demonstration:

On 22nd September the Federation of Kurdish Associations in Germany, YEK-KOM, asked for permission to hold a demonstration in Berlin for 26th November, where 10 000 participants were to be expected. The aim was to recall the ban on PKK activity imposed by the then CDU home secretary Manfred Kanther in 1993 and promote an end to the criminalisation of the PKK. The demonstration main slogan was to be: “Strengthen Democracy, Lift the Ban on the PKK – Freedom for A. Ocalan and Peace in Kurdistan”. At a meeting between those working with the relevant police chiefs and representatives from YEK-KOM on 7th October, the original demonstration route proposed by the organizers was changed.

Precautionary ban by the Police and the State Office for Criminal Investigations (LKA):

Exactly a month later in October YEK-KOM received letters from the Chief of Police and the State Office of Criminal Investigations (LKA) simultaneously, stating that the march on 26th November would be banned. Not only that, but “[t]he ban is extended to any kind of replacement rally in the months of November and December 2011 in the state of Berlin”.

The decision was justified by the claim that “public safety and order” during the demonstration would be “in direct danger” and that it would “almost certainly” instigate violations of the law.

The authorities explained the reason, why any action in November and December must be banned, was the fact that the PKK was founded on 27th November 1978 and the timing of the demonstration was “blatantly” connected. The police and LKA generously admitted, however, “that it was of course possible” to demonstrate against the ban on PKK activity. Yet this is must not “lead to backing the forming of a group, which was banned, or to spreading any signs of such a group”.

PKK-Uniform in Disguise

Furthermore to justify the ban, the authorities cite the demonstrations and festivals dating back to 2008 as evidence. They particularly direct attention to one of the most condemned and “forbidden” figures, Mr Abdullah Ocalan, whose health and freedom is being campaigned for by Kurds. In one case, a prosecutor even investigated the leading representative of a Kurdish organisation, who wore the “uniform of the PKK combat unit” during an assembly. In fact, it was a traditional Kurdish outfit, which even the President of the Kurdish autonomous region in Northern Iraq, Barzani, wore when being officially received by German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Everyone and Everything Criminalized

Police authorities and the LKA alleged that the organizer “only proposed topics/ themes of an event in such a way, that the forbidden propaganda as well as well as its corresponding markers and symbols can be publicised”. They also made critical comments of the Chair of YEK-KOM and his role in various organisations was placed in a criminal context. The authorities asserted that it was impossible to negotiate progress with those who attended the cooperation meeting on 7th October.

Of course, the letter did not forget to refer to the fact that “members of the PKK predominantly cluster in local organisations”, who belong to the governing body, YEK-KOM, who in turn are “in close contact with the ERNK (National Liberations Front of Kurdistan) /CDK”.

The authorities put forward the absurd argument that given the “proportion of resources” necessary, it was finally “no longer reasonable to limit precautionary measures or police intervention during the event” and therefore no smaller measure was possible other than the ban on the 26 November demonstration for the sake of “the prevention of criminal offences”.

Objections raised by the organisers

Decision to ban infringes on rights of the organiser

YEK-KOM’s lawyer entered an objection against the ban of the demonstration. The letter criticised the authorities for not recognising the fundamental right that demonstrate against the PKK-ban. Furthermore, at least a “good dozen” members of the European Parliament, the German Parliament and various Regional Parliaments had supported the demonstration and its related objectives. The “proximity to the moment of the founding of the PKK in 1978” was not intentional. At the cooperation meeting on 7th October, it was agreed not only to change the route of the demonstration (the new route was confirmed by email on 10/10), but also that “that the forbidden flags were not be carried” and “pictures of Mr Ocalan would be limited to one out of every fifty participants”.

Basic rights effectively ignored

During the meeting, the list of earlier demonstrations outlined in the ban was not even mentioned by the police authorities. Whilst primarily the “the medical condition of A. Ocalan and his imprisonment” formed the content of the meeting, the demonstration was discussed only “in the margins of this same issue”. Principally, the demand to remove the ban on PKK activity was the priority of the event and so it was “not a propaganda event for the PKK and its founder Ocalan”. The “disputed decision did in no way give credit” to the organiser’s intention. In fact, “any ‘Kurdish’ event from recent years was effectively declared as a propaganda event for the PKK”. Such a blanket approach “conveniently lead to the rejection of any further opinion on the matter”. The basic rights outlined in articles 5 and 8 of the constitution were thereby “effectively ignored”.

It must be established that the decision to ban the demonstration restricts the “constitutional right to freedom of assembly and to freedom of expression on financial grounds”, which has shown itself to be an “unlawful” act.

YEK-KOM: Ban against the Ban?

On 19th November YEK-KOM commented on the situation under the heading “Are we banned to demonstrate against the ban?” YEK-KOM feared that clearly the “PKK-ban would even serve, in practice, to criminalize a protest against this ban” and they called on “supporters and friends to protest against the ban to the Berlin authorities”.

Translation of German original