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Campaign to free Kurdish politician Leyla Zana launched

(BIANET/IFEX) - A group of rights activists has started a campaign against the 10-year prison sentence handed down to Kurdish politician Leyla Zana.

A campaign to free Zana has been started by rights activists - among them, writers Bilgesu Erenus, Murathan Mungan, Seyhmus Diken and Ragip Zarakolu, human rights activists Hürriyet Sener, Esber Yagmurdereli and Sebnem Korur Fincanci, and journalists Inci Hekimoglu and Ragip Duran.

Speaking at a press briefing at the Chamber of Mechanical Engineers in Istanbul on 16 March 2009, the group called on the Supreme Court of Appeals to overturn the 10-year prison sentence, and on the Turkish Parliament to lift all legal obstructions to freedom of expression.

The press briefing was attended by Eren Keskin and Leman Yurtsever from the Human Rights Association (IHD), lawyers Ergin Cinmen and Ayse Batumlu, writers Erol Özkoray and Nemciye Alpay, and conscientious objector Halil Savda.

The Diyarbakir Heavy Penal Court sentenced Zana to 10 years' imprisonment because of some of her speeches. For IHD's Keskin, "The aim of the campaign is to make sure that all ideas are freed in Turkey. We also demand that the present impasse concerning the Kurdish question be solved and political prisoners be freed. As long as people are tried for dissident thoughts, there can be no democratisation."

IHD representative Yurtsever read another part of the statement: "Leyla has been given 10 more years' imprisonment for speeches she made. Her file is at the Supreme Court of Appeals. Let us not allow this to happen this time. As long as Leyla Zana, and other dissidents, are in prison, we will not be free."

The Supreme Court of Appeals should consider the European Court of Human Rights case law, Cinmen continued: "Expression of thought is the most important freedom. Without freedom of expression, there can be no democracy or law. There can be no application of democratisation policies. What we ask from the Supreme Court of Appeals is that it applies the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. Laws that restrict the freedom of expression must be abolished in parliament."

"Freedom of expression is not just any freedom - it is the basis for democracy," continued Özkoray. "Without freedom of expression and thought, no democracy can be founded. The penalties under Article 26 of the Constitution must be abolished. We expect the Supreme Court of Appeals to apply Article 90 of the Constitution, which accepts the superior claim of international agreements. If judges apply this article, then we can have freedom of expression in Turkey."

Laywer Batumlu added that freedom of expression could not be guaranteed only with laws. "Regulations are important, but the basic issue is one of practice. For instance, no court cases are opened (to prosecute those who spout) the racist slogan 'Love the country or leave it', but all dissident thoughts can be punished. This is a problem of mentality. There must be no limit to the freedom of expression."

The campaign organisers called on others to support the campaign on the website http://leyla-zana.blogspot.com

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