The judiciary and the Kurdish initiative

The surrender of a group of 34 men, women and children – some of them PKK members, some of them ordinary inhabitants of a refugee camp for Turkish Kurds in northern Iraq – was the first visible result of the government’s Kurdish initiative, launched this summer. By sending the ‘peace group’ (as the PKK calls it) to Turkey, the PKK wants to show it supports the initiative. It has been making big headlines all week, and still is. There is, for example, a lot of criticism of the thousands of people who came to the Iraqi-Turkish border to welcome the group and the thousands more who welcomed them to the biggest city in the southeast, Diyarbakir. Prime Minister Erdogan called it a provocation, and many Turks feel the same way – not so suprisingly, since portraits of state enemy number one, Öcalan, were held up and PKK flags waved.

It was an important development that this group came to Turkey, but at the same time there was news that once again illustrates how much change is needed before the Kurdish problem is really solved, for example in the areas of freedom of speech, of fair justice for everybody, of freedom of the press. The European Court for Human Rights ruled this week in favour of several publications that were banned for one month, all of them Kurdish newspapers. They were banned because of the way they reported on the Kurdish initiative, and the European Court has now decided that these bans violated the freedom of expression.

I also want to mention the fate of Hacer Aar, a member of Mothers for Peace who has been detained for half a year now. Mothers for Peace is an association of relatives of victims of human rights violations and disappearances in Turkey, mostly in the Kurdish southeast. She was imprisoned in Istanbul without being charged or brought to court, and her lawyer doesn’t have access to her judicial files.

And maybe not everybody realises it, but there is also still a closure case pending against the pro-Kurdish Party for a Democratic Society, DTP. The trial has been going on for almost two years now, and this week the prosecutor decided to launch a new probe into the DTP because of things that were said in speeches and during demonstrations while the group of 34 people  was on its way to Turkey.

The judiciary is one of the institutions not really involved in the Kurdish initiative, as the army is. Of course you could argue that the judiciary should be independent and follow the laws that politicians make, and that’s true, but the problem is, the judiciary in Turkey is not independent. Anybody questioning the state truths is easily prosecuted for example under the banner of ‘inciting hatred among the people’ or ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’, whereas fierce nationalism hardly ever is, to mention just one example. You could argue the same for the army of course: they should also not be a political power, as they are in Turkey. But at least the army is one of the institutions that is talking on a regular basis with the government, and there is talk now that opposition parties will be attending these meetings too. But what about the judiciary? How and when are they going to adjust to a society in which the Kurdish issue is – hopefully – slowly slowly being resolved?

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