Cablegate: Turkish State Security Court Re-Convicts Leyla Zana, Co-Defendants; Verdict Will Be Appealed

Published: Thu 22 Apr 2004 05:05 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
220544Z Apr 04
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 002294
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/21/2014
(U) Classified by Polcouns John Kunstadter; reasons 1.4 (b,d).
1. (U) Summary: An Ankara State Security Court (SSC) April 21
re-convicted Leyla Zana and three other Kurdish former MPs
charged with being members of the terrorist PKK, ending a
contentious 13-month retrial that has been widely criticized
by human rights advocates and EU parliamentarians as unfair.
The ruling affirms the original 1994 verdict. The defense
has already filed an appeal. In any event the defendants are
expected to be released in 2005. Current AKP government
plans to introduce legislation in May that would abolish the
SSCs. End Summary.
2. (U) The SSC's verdict repeats the original conviction and
15-year sentence set in the defendants' controversial 1994
trial. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in
2001 that the 1994 trial was unfair; a retrial was granted in
March 2003 following GOT enactment of a EU-related reform
under which ECHR rulings are grounds for a possible retrial
in a Turkish court. In accordance with the Anti-Terror Law,
the convicts are expected to serve three-fourths of their
sentence, meaning they will be released in 2005. Based on
the date of their original incarceration, three would be
released in March and one in October.
3. (U) Lead defense attorney Yusuf Alatas told us after the
trial that he had already filed an appeal to a Turkish
appellate court, and will apply separately to the ECHR. The
ECHR has frequently overturned SSC convictions.
4. (U) The three judges on the SSC panel announced the
verdict to a hushed courtroom after a 5-minute recess.
Spectators -- including Kurdish rights activists, defendants'
relatives, foreign diplomats, members of international NGOs,
and European Parliament officials -- filed quietly out of the
room. The defendants were not present; they began boycotting
the sessions in March to protest a reported accusation by
Justice Minister Cicek that they had "insulted" the court.
On the courthouse steps, Alatas and European Parliament MP
Luigi Vinci jointly addressed a large group of reporters.
Vinci called the ruling an "insult" to the EU and ECHR and
accused the court of bias against the defendants. Alatas
said he had expected the decision, and argued that the court
had revealed its "prejudiced" approach by repeating the
decision reached in the original trial, despite the ECHR
5. (U) The defendants -- Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan
Dogan, and Selim Sadak -- are former members of the
pro-Kurdish-independence Democracy Party, which has since
been banned. They were convicted of "staging separatist
activities both in Turkey and abroad" as members of the PKK.
At each of 13 consecutive trial sessions the court refused
defense requests to have the defendants released pending the
outcome of the trial. Alatas repeatedly argued the court was
obligated to release his clients in light of the ECHR ruling
in their favor. He also argued unsuccessfully that Chief
Judge Mehmet Orhan Karadeniz should remove himself from the
case because he voted against granting the re-trial (but was
outvoted by the other two SSC judges).
6. (C) The SSC system has been an enduring obstacle to
judicial reform in Turkey. SSCs have the authority to hold
closed sessions and admit testimony taken under police
interrogation in the absence of counsel. SSCs have often
convicted without persuasive evidence. Moreover, SSCs,
ostensibly designed to try terrorists and other dangerous
criminals, have been used routinely in the past by the State
to intimidate and silence its critics. Many defendants tried
in SSCs have been charged for non-violent expressions
"insulting" the State and its institutions. The bulk of ECHR
rulings against Turkey result from SSC convictions deemed in
violation of the right to a fair trial.
7. (C) The current AKP government appears set finally to
address the problem. A raft of constitutional amendments
scheduled to be introduced in Parliament in May includes a
measure that would eliminate the SSCs. Another measure would
revise the physical structure in SSCs and heavy penal courts
that places prosecutors and judges together on an elevated
platform, while leaving defense attorneys seated below.
Under the revisions, defense attorneys and prosecutors would
both sit at ground-level, designating (at least formally)
equal status in the courtroom.
8. (U) As at an earlier stage in the re-trial, chairman of
the EU parliamentary ad hoc observer delegation Lagendijk
issued a tough criticism of the court's conduct, including
the court's refusal to allow defense witnesses to testify.
To date Post has refrained from commenting publicly on the
re-trial; given the defense lawyers' appeal, we plan to avoid
public comment on the verdict.
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