Leyla Zana, an independent pro-Kurdish deputy from Diyarbakır, was sentenced on Thursday to 10 years in prison on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and spreading its propaganda in a series of speeches she made over four years ago.
The Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court sentenced Zana to a decade in prison for speeches she made on nine separate occasions, saying that her actions and activities have reached the level of membership in the terrorist PKK, which requires a 10-year jail sentence in line with Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). The court said in its decision that, based on Zana's testimony and speeches made outside the courthouse, it is clear she does not acknowledge the PKK as a terrorist organization and that she sees jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan as the leader of the Kurds.
Furthermore, the court asserted that Zana sees the PKK’s terrorist activities as part of a fight for “freedom and democracy.” Zana had already been convicted for the same nine speeches she made between 2007 and 2008 at news conferences and public meetings, but her conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals on the grounds that she had not had an adequate opportunity to defend herself. She was given a fresh trial in Diyarbakır, resulting in Thursday’s 10-year jail sentence.
The court also revoked Zana’s right to vote and run for political office, as well as other political rights.
İbrahim Güçlü, a Kurdish politician and writer, slammed the court’s ruling on Zana and said it will “serve for the goals of the PKK.” Güçlü also said the court’s decision will lead to further distrust among Kurds about the government’s willingness to resolve the Kurdish problem. Prosecutors were seeking a jail sentence of up to 55 years in prison for Zana for speeches she made in places such as Diyarbakır, Batman, Bingöl and the European Parliament.
In a controversial speech earlier this year, Zana said, “Weapons are insurance for Kurds,” as long as the Kurdish issue exists. Zana was not in attendance at Thursday’s hearing but represented by her lawyer Fethi Gümüş.
Gümüş requested the case be scrapped because Zana is a member of Parliament and enjoys parliamentary immunity. He also noted that it is impossible for Zana to be a member of a terrorist organization because it would have been impossible for her to be elected to the Parliament if she had been so.
Zana entered Parliament as an independent supported by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in the June 2011 general elections.
The lawyer also reminded the court of a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Appeals that gave the green light to the use of the expression “Mr. Abdullah Öcalan,” which had been the cause of the imprisonment of several politicians. The court decided that the use of the phrase was covered by the principle of “freedom of expression” and overruled the punishment of its usage.
Gümüş said his client’s punishment on charges of being a member of the terrorist organization due to her speeches is not right when taking the top court’s decision into consideration. Regarding the lawyer’s request to dismiss the case, the panel of judges said the court ruled for the continuation of the trial at a hearing on Nov. 17, 2011, and that Parliament was informed of the decision of the court.
If Zana’s conviction is approved by the Supreme Court of Appeals, her conviction will not take effect until she leaves Parliament. The next election is set for 2015. Kurdish intellectual and writer Orhan Miroğlu said, according to the court’s Zana ruling, not only Zana but also her colleagues in the BDP committed the same offenses.