Turkey: Court convicts Kurdish rights advocate, former lawmakers of ties to '\'rebels'\'
A Turkish court convicted Kurdish rights advocate Leyla Zana and three other former Kurdish lawmakers of having links to "rebels" in their retrial on Wednesday, ordering the four to serve the remainder of their 15 year prison sentences.
The four have already served 10 years of the prison sentence and would be eligible for release in 2005. The ruling - although widely expected - could be a set back for Turkey's hopes to start European Union membership negotiations next year.
Several EU lawmakers who have been observing the yearlong retrial as a test of improvements in Turkish human rights and of the judicial system, have said the court was biased and violated the defendants' rights to a fair trial.
The retrial was held after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2001 that Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak did not get a fair hearing in their first trial in 1994.
The defendants will appeal the verdict, Dogan's daughter, Aysegul Dogan told The Associated Press. None of the defendants were present at the hearing. The four decided last month to shun the retrial, claiming the court was not allowing them a fair hearing.
Lawyer Yusuf Alatas expressed disappointment with the verdict. "The court did not surprise us today," Alatas said. "Our clients had already lost faith in the retrial process and refused to show up in the last three hearings."
In the course of the retrial, the court has repeatedly refused to release the defendants without offering a reason and judges have on occasion referred to the defendants as "the convicted" in what international observers have said was a violation of the presumption of innocence. Defense lawyers have also complained of being denied the right to adequately question prosecution witnesses.
The Switzerland-based International Commission of Jurists immediately condemned the decision. "The fundamental right to a fair trial was not respected," it said.
The EU, which will decide by the end of the year whether to start negotiations on Ankara's membership, has said Turkey must improve its human rights record before it can join the bloc.
The defendants were found guilty of ties to Kurdish rebels who fought a 15-year war for autonomy in southeast Turkey.
With time off for good conduct, the four legislators could be eligible for release in 15 months. The four were arrested in 1994 and stripped of their parliamentary immunity. (Albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)