The Britain-based teenager is accused of trying to join the all-women YPJ force in Syria. Photo: Facebook.
LONDON – Protesters picketed outside the London courthouse where Shilan Ozcelik, a teenage British girl of Kurdish descent, went on trial for trying to join Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State group (ISIS) in Syria.
The girl’s defense attorneys Peter Rolands and Ali Has as well as prosecutor Rosemary Davidson were present at the London courthouse where the trial began on Monday, and was adjourned to November 16.
Kurdish protesters stood outside the Old Bailey courthouse with banners calling for the release of the 18-year-old, charged with a terrorist offence under the UK’s 2006 Terrorism Act.
The Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, a pro-Kurdish initiative in the United Kingdom, has begun a postcard campaign aiming to send hundreds of postcards to the Home Office, calling on the government to drop the charges.
“We know that Shilan has never committed any act of violence and poses no threat to the people of this country,” a statement from the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign said. “As such, we reiterate our call for the charges against her to be dropped.”
Ozcelik’s supporters say she travelled to Brussels in an attempt to try to join the women’s wing of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which is affiliated with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). She was arrested on January 16 as she returned from Brussels.
Neither the YPG nor its women’s wing, YPJ, is banned in the UK. But the PKK is listed as a terrorist group by both the European Union and the United States.
The Peace in Kurdistan Campaign said it rejected this labeling of the PKK and said it “has the effect of criminalizing anyone in the Kurdish community.” It stressed that the PKK stands against ISIS.
“Given this context, the arrest of a young Kurdish woman for allegedly attempting to join the fight against ISIS seems more than a little contradictory,” the Kurdistan peace campaign said in a statement.
Sheri Laizer, author of several books on the Kurdish issue, said that putting the girl on trial would not prevent other Kurds in Europe from going to fight against ISIS.
"Cases such as this will not prevent other Kurds from taking off, as long as they have a reason to fight ISIS," she told Rudaw. "We have no reason to fear them in Europe, because Europe is not their target."
Ozcelik goes on trial as Turkey and the PKK re-ignited a three-decade conflict in July, shattering a two-year peace process.
The PKK’s affiliates in Syria have been praised by the United States and other coalition partners for remaining the most effective force on the ground against ISIS in Syria. But there has been no change in US and EU policy toward the PKK.
More Britons have allegedly fought with the YPG against ISIS without being prosecuted. In July, three British and American volunteers who had returned from the battlefield were reportedly received as heroes at a Kurdish Community Centre in London.
Hundreds of foreign fighters have reportedly traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with Kurdish forces battling ISIS.
Foreign fighters also have joined the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq, which remains a staunch US and Western ally in the war against ISIS.