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Jail time used to silence Kurds

Despite the Turkish Prime Minister's renewed interest in a permanent peace with the country's Kurdish population, anyone who speaks out on behalf of the ethnic minority continues to be faced with incredible jail sentences, report the IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET) and other news sources.

For instance, popular Kurdish singer Ferhat Tunc is facing a prison sentence of up to 15 years for spreading propaganda for the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), during a speech he made last year at a cultural festival in the south-eastern province of Siirt, reports BIANET. In his speech, Tunc said he was excited at the prospect of peace with Turkey after 25 bloody years. More than 1,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the case be dropped.

Meanwhile, if the public prosecutor gets his way, Gurbet Cakar, the editorial manager of Turkey's only women's magazine "Renge Heviya Jine", will spend 20 years behind bars for allegedly spreading "organisational propaganda as if the magazine was a publication organ of the PKK."

In a separate case, more than 50 politicians of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society (DTP) had their sentence upheld last month for protesting against the closure of Kurdish Roj TV, a satellite channel broadcast from Denmark. They were convicted in April 2008 of "praising crime and a criminal" and must now pay a fine of nearly US$600 each.

And in yet another instance, Aziz Ozer, editorial manager of "Guney" magazine, is facing up to seven and a half years in prison for publishing an account by a PKK member and a caricature that was deemed sympathetic to PKK violence.

News reports say the sentences come at a time when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government is trying to win over Turkey's Kurds - who make up 20 percent of Turkey's population - by granting them more cultural rights. Apparently, Turkish officials have reportedly held secret talks with an imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief to try to end the bitter fighting with his autonomy-seeking rebels.

According to UK trial observers, at best the Turkish government is supporting the prosecutions because many of the defendants are members of the opposition - and next year is another election year.

At its worst, the trials are wholly political, "to destroy or curb all activities and initiatives developed within the Kurdish population, and demolish its key institutions and vital civil society organisations," said the UK delegation, which includes MPs, lawyers and human rights activists.

The Kurdish rebel group has recently declared a unilateral ceasefire in hopes of opening a dialogue but Turkey has ignored it.

Forty Turkish journalists currently in prison are awaiting trial on charges of violating the Turkish penal code or anti-terror laws through their work as journalists, says the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European arm of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). More than 700 Turkish journalists are facing lawsuits with the threat of imprisonment.

Join EFJ and its affiliate, the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the journalist prisoners.

Sign and send an e-card to Prime Minister Erdogan here
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