Turkey needs to think again on Leyla Zana

Labour Party

Talking recently to young Labour activists I know that the country they would like to see join the European Union most is Turkey. It would serve as a bridge to Asia politically as well as geographically, and it would be good to see a predominantly Muslim country join. I have been a long standing supporter of Turkey’s admission. Yet Turkey still has a long way to go, and it is difficult to be an advocate when it takes different democratic ways forward. The Financial Times reports:

‘Turkey’s main Kurdish party has threatened to boycott the June election after 12 independent candidates, including a parliamentary deputy, were barred.Protesters clashed with police across Turkey’s Kurdish south-east on Tuesday after the electoral board annulled the candidates’ applications because of previous convictions.’
Yet the FT article fails to fully make clear how Turkey is violating fundamental human rights. One of those arrested is Leyla Zana. She is a past winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament, and is a past nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. yet The Financial Times goes on to say:
‘The AK party, though it is ahead in the polls, stands to benefit from the decision, as it is competing fiercely with the BDP for Kurdish votes in the south-east. Among the candidates facing bans is Leyla Zana, a figurehead for Kurdish militants, who was convicted of links to the PKK and spent 10 years in jail after being elected in 1991.’
That’s not my recollection. Leyla Zana was indeed imprisoned but I supported Amnesty International’s successful campaign against the unfair imprisonment of Leyla Zana. Amnesty reported what actually happened:
‘After reciting the required loyalty oath in Turkish when elected as the first Kurdish woman MP, she added in Kurdish that she would “struggle so that the Kurdish and Turkish peoples may live together in a democratic framework.” After warnings by an extremely apprehensive speaker of the parliament, she repeated the official loyalty oath. But even that act could not save her from the witch-hunt that followed.’
It seems that withchunt continues. Leyla Zana’s conviction was overturned at the European Court of Human Rights. So she now finds herself ineligible to stand for election on a tenuous claim that she has had links to terrorists. No one claims she is or ever has been a terrorist, and prosecution of her has been shown to be unsound at the highest level. There are some great simple principles here. Once you have served your sentence you should be free to re-enter civic society and to stand for election. There have been many examples where yesterday’s terrorists are todays politicians. Yet as her peace awards demonstrate Leyla Zana is not a terrorist.
In effect Turkey has wrongly convicted her and now ignores the European Court of Human Rights overturning of that judgment. It relies on that past wrong conviction to deprive her of her current democratic rights, and conveniently the ruling AK party looks like it will benefit most from that decision. It is simply wrong and is the sort of judgment which makes it extremely difficult for friends of Turkey. I have always been a critical friend of Turkey. I want to argue for Turkey to join the European Union without having decisions like this reflected back to me. The Turkish government knows what it is doing, and it may be that it is giving up on joining the EU in the short term. 
I think that is a msitake and I wish there was greater diplomatic pressure on Turkey to explain these undemocratic actions. I cannot help feeling that as a NATO member and with current events in Libya that this may be why this matter has not received the attention it deserves. 

One thought on “Turkey needs to think again on Leyla Zana

  1. I find it hard to understand the point of ‘Yet Turkey still has a long way to go, and it is difficult to be an advocate when it takes different democratic ways forward’. However deeply flawed, racist and unfair their election was, at least it was an election. We got Hermann Von Rompuy as our President without any public election at all and we did not have any say in the decision to pay him a salary greater than that of President Obama! This overpaid EU official has made so little impact that an opinion poll found that only 4% of German voters could give the correct answer to the question, ‘Who is Hermann Von Rumpoy’.

    On a visit to Istanbul the December before last, a Turkish man was going on and on at me about how sad it was that the EU was so reluctant to grant membership to his country. I explained to him that it was nothing personal on my part and that being a reluctant citizen of the undemocratic EU, neither I nor any other citizen had had any say in the matter. He asked about the EU Parliament but when I told him that it had no power to make laws and was just a talking shop run by the unelected officials he was still keen for Turkey to join.

    It is sad that Britons do have membership and don’t want it, while Turks haven’t got it and do want it. Surely the best solution would be for the UK to give its unwanted membership away to Turkey – rather like the way a bag of old, worn and no longer fashionable clothes gets donated to a charity shop in the hope that they might, after all, prove useful to someone.

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