The 4th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır in the predominantly Kurdish region of south-eastern Turkey arrested Mehdi Tanrıkulu, editor of the Azadiya Welat newspaper publishing in Kurdish, because he insisted on making his defence in a press case pending against him in Kurdish.
Journalist Tanrıkulu stands accused of "spreading propaganda for an illegal organization" based on an article published in the Kurdish daily on 23 January 2010. In his article, Tanrıkulu had described imprisoned leader of the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Adullah Öcalan as the "Leader of the Kurdish People". Moreover, he referred to the PKK as the "Kurdish Freedom Movement".
"You know Turkish, you cannot defend yourself in Kurdish"
The prosecutor demanded a two-count prison sentence for Tanrıkulu of a total of two to ten years according to article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMY) (law no. 3713) on propaganda for illegal organizations. Un-detained defendant Tanrıkulu attended the latest hearing together with his lawyer Servet Özen.
After having finished the formalities, the journalist told the court that he requested to make his defence in Kurdish. However, the court ruled out the possibility of a defence in Kurdish by emphasizing that the defendant is familiar with the Turkish language.
Right to silence?
Lawyer Özen pointed out the legal basis for his client's request. The prosecutor demanded to dismiss the request since Tanrıkulu knows Turkish. Hereupon, the court decreed that the defence would have to be made in Turkish.
Tanrıkulu insisted on his request and referred to the fact that Turkey is a part of the Treaty of Lausanne which grants the right to make his defence in Kurdish. However, the court interpreted Tanrıkulu's insistence on a Kurdish defence as his refraining from his right to defence and registered that the defendant made use of his right to silence.
Court did not accept Kurdish defence - defendant detained
Lawyer Özen objected and stated that his client's request could not be assessed as using his right to silence. He pointed out that journalist Tanrıkulu held the right to a defence in Kurdish according to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The court did not allow Tanrıkulu to answer the questions about his alleged crimes in Kurdish.
Subsequent to the prosecution's statement, Tanrıkulu was asked once more to respond to the allegations. Again, Tanrıkulu started his defence in Kurdish.
Thereupon, the court refused to listen to the journalist's defence and decided to detain the defendant. The trial was postponed to 20 May.
TGDP: Newspaper under immense pressure
The Solidarity Platform for Journalists in Detention (TGDP) criticized the intensified pressure on the newspaper and drew attention to the fact that the daily is clamped in an iron grip.
Azadiya Welat recently received two one-month publication bans. Former editorial manager Vedat Kurşun was sentenced to imprisonment of three years. Distributor of the daily Metin Alataş's body was found hung in a tree in Adana last weekend. (EÖ/VK)
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