Turkish riot police fire tear at Kurdish demonstrators in Istanbul during a protest in support of prison hunger strikes. Oct. 2012. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Important amendments this month to Turkey’s terror laws do not necessarily benefit the large minority Kurds, with whom the government is engaged in historic peace talks, and are meant to placate the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), observers say.
Under the latest amendments, made on April 12, throwing rocks and bottles at law enforcement agencies and distributing propaganda will no longer be considered acts of terror. They also give judges greater leeway to suspend jail sentences.
"Previously, a judge could only suspend a two-year prison term or convert the sentence to a fine. In the new package the judge can suspend even five-year sentences," said Sidki Zilan, a Kurdish lawyer and politician.
The changes also allow all citizens to defend themselves in the courts in the language in which they are most comfortable, Zilan said, describing the amendment as very important. “This will solve the cases of many of those who have been detained for years while awaiting trial," he added.
The changes come as Ankara is engaged in momentous talks with Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who last month called on fighters to disarm. He said the PKK’s fight for greater Kurdish rights, which has killed about 40,000 people nationwide, was entering a phase where the battle would continue in the political arena.
The anti-terror laws were first passed in 1991, with the escalation of the conflict between the Turkish army and the PKK. They were amended in 2003, defining a “terrorist” as someone who resorts to arms to achieve goals, and also any person who assists a terrorist organization or distributes its propaganda.
In 2009, under the banner of "fight against the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK),” Turkey arrested more than 3,000 Kurdish politicians for membership.
Selahattin Ergin, the Turkish Justice Minister, stated that KCK detainees would not benefit from the latest amendment package because they will be tried according to Article 314 of the law, which deals with the attempt to establish armed organizations and resorting to violence.
Sedat Yurttas, a Kurdish lawyer and politician who was imprisoned in 1994 along with Leyla Zana who got 10 years, said that, "This package does not include the KCK detainees, but the Turkish government is preparing itself to take a fifth package of amendments to the Turkish parliament after the withdrawal of the PKK.
“That package will include the KCK detainees," he told Rudaw.
Observers and politicians say that the latest amendments are aimed at placating the ECHR, which has long asked Turkey to amend its penal codes to comply with European Union standards.
Mustafa Toprak, MP of the Kemalist People's Republican Party (CHP), criticized the Turkish government and described the package of amendments as an attempt by the government to consolidate its own popularity.
"This package represents the views of the government only, and does not comply with the current standards of democracy," he said.
Murat Bozlak, MP of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), also criticized the package. “It seems that this package is only to silence the ECHR," he said.
The ECHR said in a report in late 2011, that there have been 3,000 human rights violations in Turkey. It has imposed fines on Turkey, and asked it to grant prisoners a three-month period to file complaints against courts, and be retried after receiving their sentences the first time that ECHR request is included in the latest amendments.
"This package has not introduced any political facilities for the Kurds," said Zilan.