Leyla Zana, a well know political spokesperson for the Kurds in Turkey and the 1994 Rafto Prize Laureate has been sentenced to two years imprisonment by a Turkish Court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. The court´s judgment said she violated the Anti-Terrorism Law after a speech she held at a Kurdish Newroz Festival in 2007. (12-APR-08)  

Based on the Rafto Foundation´s news release, issued today, this article has been edited and prepared for republication here by HRH F / Niels Jacob Harbitz.

In the hearing in Diyarbakir Zana stated: “It is a shame in the name of Turkish democracy that I have appeared before the judge for my thoughts”.

Zana jailed while the EU president visits Turkey
The court´s decision to jail Zana came on the same day that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso arrived in Ankara for talks with Turkish leaders. One of the topics of concern was the situation for freedom of expression in Turkey.

Freedom of expression in Turkey
Leyla Zana sent the following statement to the Rafto Prize Committee on April 11, 2008: “There is not any legitimacy for a mentality which judges the freedom of expression. Because freedom of expression is the basis of basic human rights. The punishment for voicing public demands for respect, equality and freedom is a disgrace.”

Leyla Zana, background
Leyla Zana was the first Kurdish woman to win a seat in the Turkish Parliament in 1991. Her decision to give the Parliamentary Oath in Kurdish led to immediate calls for her arrest. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released in 2004 due to international pressure.

Zana received the Rafto Prize in 1994 and the Sakharov Prize the following year.

Leyla Zana is an outspoken ambassador for the Kurdish people. Despite her suffering during 10 years in Turkish prison, she has chosen to speak on behalf of her people in an open and direct manner. She demands recognition for the Kurdish language, Kurdish identity and freedom of expression in addition to political and cultural rights. Zana believes it is her duty to seek a non-violent and democratic solution for the Kurds living within Turkey´s borders.

Appeal to the international community
The Rafto Foundation and the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) calls on the EU and the international community to strongly condemn the Turkish court decision which is a major set back for the democracy process in Turkey.

For more information, please contact
Kariane Westrheim
Member of the Rafto Prize Committee and the Chair of the EUTCC
Phone: +47 97 64 20 88
E-mail: kariane.westrheim@gmail.com