Leyla Zana, Sakharov Prize, Turkey
Today I co-signed a letter in support of my fellow female activist Leyla Zana. Leyla was the first Kurdish woman to win a seat in the Turkish Parliament but in 1994 she was imprisoned by the Turkish authorities for speaking Kurdish in the Parliament. The European Parliament recognised that Leyla was a prisoner of conscience and awarded her the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1995. She collected this prize after her release in 2004.

Given that Turkey is striving to make changes, to promote human rights and to ensure freedom of expression as it attempts to join the EU, it is with regret that I have found out that Leyla Zana has once again been imprisoned. Below is the text of the letter that European MPs have written to the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

On 4th of December a Turkish court sentenced the politician and Sakharov Prize Laureate Leyla Zana to ten years in prison for “violating” the Turkish penal code and the Turkish anti-terror law in nine different speeches. We as Members of the European Parliament strongly condemn this court decision which is a major set back for the democracy process in Turkey. We believe that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right which has to be ensured in a democracy. But unfortunately we witnessed in the past that freedom of expression and also freedom of the press are still not fully protected in Turkey. It is not acceptable that people in Turkey are prosecuted for expressing non-violent opinions. We fear that this court decision, which also revoked Ms Zana’s right to vote and run for political office was a political decision as regional elections will be held in Turkey on 29th of March 2009.
Therefore we urge you to make sure that the judgement against Leyla Zana will be annuled and ensure that freedom of expression in Turkey is fully in line with the International Human Rights Standards.