Thu Feb 5, 2009

Aysel Tugluk, a senior member of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), was convicted for saying at a 2006 rally that guerrillas of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were "heroes to some", a court in Diyarbakir said.

Judges in the largely Kurdish southeastern city ruled that Tugluk had violated anti-terrorism laws, the court said.

"I was trying to express that not everyone thinks the same as the state on the Kurdish issue and that debate is needed to resolve the conflict," Tugluk told Reuters in a phone interview.

"This ruling was a political decision, taken not just against me, but to penalise our party. The PKK has its own methods of propaganda and doesn’t need me."

The DTP is the first pro-Kurdish group to enter the 550-seat Turkish parliament in more than a decade. It calls for a negotiated settlement of Turkey’s 25-year conflict with the PKK, and faces a possible ban on charges it has links with militants.

Turkey blames the PKK for the deaths of some 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, in the conflict in the largely Kurdish southeast. The United States and European Union have also labelled the PKK a terrorist organisation.

Judge Husammetin Otcu said he had sentenced Tugluk because of "the manner in which the crime was committed, the damage caused by the time and place at which it was committed, the intensity of the act and the defendant’s lack of remorse."

Tugluk said she faces at least 30 separate cases for comments she has made about the Kurdish conflict. Other prominent DTP members also face numerous charges.

"I’ve lost count of the number of pending trials," she said. "It’s a form of official pressure on our party."

Tugluk has immunity from prison as long as she is a member of parliament. She was sentenced to 18 months in jail in 2007, when she was DTP chairwoman, over the distribution of party leaflets in Kurdish languages, a violation of the law that requires all political literature be in Turkish.

Her lawyer Fethi Gumus said Tugluk would appeal the latest conviction. If she loses the appeal, parliament could strip her of immunity and she would serve the prison sentences, he added.

Turkey’s Kurds number about 12 million people out of the country’s total population of 71 million. Most live in areas bordering communities of Kurds in Iraq, Iran and Syria. (Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Nick Vinocur)