Human Rights, Turkey

Having already written a letter to the Turkish Prime Minister and blogged on it HERE, I have just put my name to an open letter to David Miliband calling on the British government to use its influence on Turkey. Leyla Zana, the first Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish parliament, has been convicted for up to ten years in prison for speeches she allegedly made in the UK and elsewhere.

Her affront to the Turkish state has been to speak up for peace between Kurds and Turks – a far cry from the supposed promotion of pro-terrorist language she is accused of. She has previously served ten years in jail for fighting for Kurdish rights. Famously, upon entering parliament she called for brotherhood between the Kurdish and Turkish peoples. The offence there? To make this call in her native Kurdish language.

Her earlier trial was found to be unfair and unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights, and her struggle has long been recognised in Europe: in the 1990s Amnesty recognised her as a prisoner of conscience, and the European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize for human rights.

The letter calls on the UK government to hammer the message home that Turkey must honour its commitments under the Copenhagen Criteria if it is to join the European Union. Freedom of speech and association are universal human rights, and must be respected as such.


Read more on Leyla Zana HERE, and on the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign HERE



The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last night spoke of Turkey’s intention to build nuclear power stations to meet its growing energy needs. Addressing a dinner organised by the European think tank, Friends of Europe, Mr Erdogan described how Turkey will soon be making its final decision about the nuclear power he claimed it now required.

I must say I find this an uncomfortable thought. Although I have no objection to nuclear power in the UK and other countries with an established nuclear capablity, the idea of a non-nuclear power developing the potential, albeit for peaceful, civil use fills me with dread. Since Turkey is a member of NATO, my misgivings may be misplaced. However, we only have to think of Iran to see where this could go.

Much of the reminder of Erdogan’s speech at the elegant Cercle Royal Gaulois Artistique et Litteraire in Brussels, was, as you may have expected, taken up with Turkey and the European Union. The EU, he claimed, will not be served by a fortress Europe mentality, and such an attitude will not help solve the present economic crisis. As far as Turkey joining the EU was concerned, the Turkish PM pointed out that a number of countries had once been considered inadmissible for EU membership. As well as mentioning Spain and Portugal, he cited the twice vetoed application from the United Kingdom. Turkey, which has had a successful customs union with the EU since 1996, is also negotiating for EU membership. Ten chapters of the accession process have already been opened and one is practically closed.

Mr Erdogan stressed that Turkey’s goal is full membership of the EU. Privileged partnership is not acceptable and has never been raised in connection with any other country. Turkey will benefit the EU. It is the 17th largest economy in the world and the sixth largest in Europe while also being a member of the G20. Turkey’s economy has consistently improved. Six years ago the GDP was 259 billion US dollars; it is now $750 billion. Inflation has been reduced from a high of 30 per cent to 10 percent and interest rates now stand at three per cent. All this means that Turkey is in line with the economic criteria in the Maastricht Treaty for EU accession.

As I have indicated before on this blog, I am a strong supporter of Turkey joining the EU. I think all of us involved in the EU now have a responsibility to make it happen.

On the question of Cyprus, Mr Erdogan expressed his displeasure that the Greek Cypriots had rejected in a referendum the plan put forward by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. He also took the view that the north of Cyprus is not in the EU and told the audience that the Turks would always be one step ahead of the Greeks. This was not, I fear, a very helpful response. I only hope those participating in the current peace talks take a more enlightened view.


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.