Three students were brought before the judge and charged with "belonging to a terrorist organisation". They were escorted by about 20 soldiers. The families jostled forward and tried to make eye contact, but the soldiers closed ranks. After a few minutes the accused were taken away to prison in handcuffs.

The young Kurds <>  are on trial for holding a demonstration in memory of their friend, Aydin Erdem, a mathematics student who was shot in the back by police on the Diyarbakir university campus in December 2010. His parents are charged with "justifying criminal behaviour" because of their gravestone tribute to him. Throughout the day detainees suspected of political crimes are brought before the judges in this special court. "The law is following a script that was written in advance," said Hülya Gülbahar, lawyer to Büsra Ersanli, a political science professor arrested in Istanbul this month.

Since the 2009 municipal elections, which gave the Peace and Democracy party the majority in the Kurdish region, 9,000 people, including elected officials, political militants, academics and NGO workers, have been arrested for allegedly having links with the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), a semi-clandestine organisation that is alleged to be the Kurdistan Workers party’s (PKK) move into civil society and politics. The Turkish republic has declared war on this embryonic independent administration. "You see! That’s Turkish justice!" a mother shouted in the corridor. Her husband has been in jail for nine months for taking part in an illegal demonstration. "They call us terrorists, but in that case we are all terrorists."

"They have no proof, this is a totally political trial," said one young man, whose uncle had been arrested. He showed me a photo of his cousin. "He got an eight-year sentence, so he fled to the mountains. Those who can’t get to Europe join the guerrillas."

The clampdown on the Kurds’ political activities has led to a strengthening of the movement’s military wing. "The government talks about solutions but locks up all the political leaders. They don’t find any weapons, they arrest them for their political ideas. So how can we demand an independent Kurdistan, if not by violence?" asked Abdullah Demirbas, mayor of Diyarbakir’s central district, also suspected of being a KCK member, but allowed to go free for health reasons. "These arrests began the day after the PKK ceasefire. The message the state is sending to the Kurds is that there is no salvation in political action." "At least 2,000 young people have joined the ranks of the PKK since 2009. My own son is among them, I couldn’t prevent him from going."In retaliation, the PKK has increased the number of violent attacks since Juneincluding ambushes on the Iraqi border, like the one that killed 24 soldiers in Cukurca last October.

In Istanbul on 13 November a pro-PKK militant hijacked a ferry was on the Marmara Sea because sister had been arrested five months earlier. He was killed by special forces and his body sent to Diyarbakir, where his family buried him among the "martyrs" of the Kurdish rebellion.

Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "Turkey cannot accept a parallel state. People who criticise these operations support and serve terrorism. We will not put down our weapons." "They say that the local administrations control the meetings and demonstrations, choose the mayors and give instructions… all that is true, but all political parties do that," said Emin Aktar, president of Diyarbakir Bar Association and lawyer for most of the accused.

The KCK is the militant base and controls the mayors and deputies of the legal party, the BDP. It also collects the revolutionary tax both in Turkey and abroad. According to an audit by the ministry of finance, the Kurdish municipalities have paid at least €12 million to the guerrillas.

This "parallel administration" governing Diyarbakir and the eastern provinces regularly boycotts state institutions such as schools, courts and mosques. For the past few months, imams loyal to the PKK have held Friday prayers out of doors, in Kurdish, to contend with the mosques where government officials sent by Ankara lead the prayers.

This article originally appeared in Le Monde <>

Guillaume Perrier
Tuesday 13 December 2011 14.04 GMT