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Three human rights activists receive prison sentences for criticising military operation, prison conditions

(BIANET/IFEX) - Three human rights activists of the Adana branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD) have been sentenced to two years and eight months' imprisonment for criticising the "Return to Life" military operations of December 2000 and the prison conditions of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.

The IHD's Istanbul branch has denounced the ruling. The IHD is planning to appeal against the sentences.

Ethem Acikalin, the president of the IHD's Adana branch, secretary Mustafa Bagcicek and accountant Hüseyin Beyaz have each been sentenced to two years and eight months' imprisonment. The decision was made at a penal court in Adana on 7 June 2007. The court decided - "considering the state the country is in" - not to defer the punishments.

The IHD Istanbul branch stated that the convictions have shown that "the reforms have not changed the oppressive essence of the system".

On 19 December 2000, the military organised synchronous operations in 22 prisons which resulted in the death of 31 people, two of them soldiers. The operations had targeted hunger strikers and were called "Return to Life".

On 18 December 2005, the human rights activists organised a rally, protesting against the operations and calling for the prosecution of those responsible. They had termed the operations "The Return to Life Massacre". The activists then stood accused of "inciting hatred and hostility".

The three activists have also been punished under Article 215 of the Penal Code for "praising crime and criminals". This second charge was brought because they criticised Öcalan's isolation in Imrali Prison:

"At Imrali Prison, the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan, personally and representative for the Kurdish people, becomes greater every day. The most natural right of contact is violated for random reasons. Although there are several court cases open against him, his right of defense is violated because he is kept from seeing his lawyers under flimsy pretexts. He is not given paper, pens and the most basic human rights."

Lawyers for the IHD have announced an appeal against the decision. They emphasised that they did not criticise the fact that Öcalan was in prison, but the conditions of his confinement. There could thus be no case made for the "praise of crimes and criminals".

The court had also mentioned in its decision that "it had been attempted to introduce the concept of the Kurdish and the Turkish people".

The IHD has made a press statement entitled, "The snowdrops which have grown out of the seeds of 12 September [the date of the military coup in 1980] will not fade: Human rights activists will not be silenced", in which it has interpreted the conviction as oppression and has announced its decision to appeal.

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