“Freedom of expression must be extended once and for all to the Kurdish press,” Reporters Without Borders said today, reacting to the 21-year jail sentence which a court in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, has passed on Ozan Kilinç, the owner and editor of the country’s only Kurdish-language daily, Azadiya Welat.

“Banning the democratic expression of ethnic minority demands will not help Turkey to put an end to extremist violence,” Reporters Without Borders added. “In this case, the sentence was out of all proportion to the offence, which was the expression of views that could be criticised.”

After finding Kilinç guilty of criminal propaganda in support of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the court sentenced him in absentia on 9 February to 21 years and three months in prison and stripped him of his civil rights. A warrant was immediately issued for his arrest although his lawyer said he would appeal.

Kilinç is the latest victim of Anti-Terrorist Law No. 3713, which has become an effective tool of repression in the hands of the Turkish state’s most conservative elements. According to the human rights website Bianet.org, 22 journalists were among the 47 people who were tried under this law in 2009. Jail sentences totalling 58 years and fines totalling 9,740 Turkish pounds (4,640 euros) were imposed in the course of the trials. Kilinç was also charged with “propaganda on behalf of an organisation with criminal aims” under article 220 of the new criminal code.

Complying strictly with the prosecutor’s request, presiding judge Dündar Örsdemir ruled that 12 of the issues published by Kilinç since June 2009 had praised the PKK although the court did not release copies of the offending content. “Issuing a conviction for each of the issues is against the law,” Kilinç’s lawyer, Servet Özen, said.

“We are determined to appeal against this unjust verdict,” Özen added, although the appeal court will take at last six months to issue a decision.

The severity of the jail term imposed on Kilinç and the court’s refusal to suspend the sentence or change it to a fine are typical of the way the judicial system has hounded the Diyarbakir-based newspaper since its creation in 1994, identifying it with the PKK because of its outspoken defence of Kurdish minority rights.

A previous editor, Hamdullah Yilmaz, fled the country after a total of 21 prosecutions were initiated against him. Its managing editor, Tayyip Temel, has been sentenced to 14 months in prison under the Anti-Terrorism Law. Another former editor, Vedat Kursun, who is being tried on charges of pro-PKK propaganda and membership of an illegal organisation, has been in preventive custody for more than a year. The next hearing in is trial is scheduled for 18 February.

Two other prosecutions are already under way against Kilinç, who was previously given a five-year jail sentence on a similar charge.

News from EuroKurd Human Rights – February 2010