Last week, a Turkish court sentenced Leyla Zana, a prominent Kurdish member of parliament, to 10 years in prison for “spreading propaganda” in speeches she gave several years ago. The conviction is another example of how prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government is using anti-terror laws to crack down on free speech and the press.
From parliament to prison
Zana, 51, is an outspoken critic of Turkey's treatment of its Kurdish minority. She has been nominated twice for the Nobel peace prize, and has won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought. In 1991, she created a furore when she spoke Kurdish while taking her parliamentary oath of office (Turkey bans the Kurdish language in official or legal contexts).
In 1994, Zana was jailed for 10 years for alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The PKK has been waging a violent insurgency since 1984 in pursuit of an independent Kurdish state: more than 40,000 have died in the conflict, and the PKK is classified as a terrorist organisation by the US and the European Union.
Zana's latest conviction is for a series of speeches in 2007 and 2008, in which she was supposed to have spoken approvingly of the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. She was originally found guilty of violating Turkey's terrorism laws, but that verdict was overturned on appeal; she was then tried on a new set of charges, which resulted in the current sentence. She is expected to appeal again.
One of many
Zana's conviction puts her in company with dozens of journalists, publishers and activists who in recent years have been detained under Turkey's wide-ranging and loosely interpreted anti-terrorism legislation. Most have been accused of spreading pro-Kurdish propaganda, or supporting a shadowy secular-nationalist organisation known as Ergenekon.
Under Turkish law, Zana enjoys parliamentary immunity, so her sentence can't start until she leaves parliament (her current term ends in 2015). Her case has become a cause célèbre among supporters of Kurdish independence, and she has won the support of Amnesty International and other human rights groups.
Take action: The European Federation of Journalists is running a campaign to Set Turkish Journalists Free.