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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 October, 2003, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Kurd trial sours Turkey's EU hopes

By Jonny Dymond
BBC correspondent in Ankara

Kurdish dissident Leyla Zana shows her handcuffs as she gets into prison vehicle after appearing in court
Zana's retrial could not have come at a worse time for Turkey

Friday saw the eighth hearing of the retrial of Kurdish dissident Leyla Zana and three of her colleagues.

All four of them were imprisoned in 1994 for membership of the PKK, the Kurdish paramilitary group.

In the same year, the European Parliament awarded Leyla Zana the Sakharov Peace Prize.

Several members of the Parliament were at the retrial on Friday.

This was probably was not very good news for Turkey's hopes for European Union candidacy, because although the retrial itself is a product of Turkey's EU reforms, its conduct makes something of a mockery of Turkey's efforts at human rights protection.

Legal flaws

To whoops and applause from excited onlookers, Leyla Zana and her three co-defendants left the prison van, gazed up briefly at the waiting cameras and then walked through a side door of Ankara's State Security Court.

There have been a number of occasions when these defendants have been referred to as guilty in this trial
International Commission of Jurists' Stuart Kerr
Inside the court around 200 people crowded the public benches, in among them the MEPs along with representatives of foreign embassies and international legal observers.

The European Court of Human Rights declared the last trial was unfair and they were here to see that this time justice is done.

But, according to observers, this one is still badly flawed in the way that evidence is taken and legal submissions recorded and in the way the prosecution seems to have more of a say than the defence.

Indeed the prosecution sits pretty much next to the three judges, whilst the defence team crane their necks to catch the chief justice's eye.

'Grave concern'

And Stuart Kerr of the International Commission of Jurists says there is still more.

"We're also extremely concerned about the presumption of innocence being violated," he said.

"There have been a number of occasions when these defendants have been referred to as guilty in this trial.

"The reasons for their continued detention seem to stem from a previous decision of the 1994 court of their guilt and those are matters that cause grave concern."

It could not really have come at a worse time.

Turkey is just over a year away from a decision by the European Union as to when and whether it can start on the long road to membership.


Over the past few years, various governments have struggled getting reform packages through parliament so as to modernise the legal system and bring human rights protection up to European standards.

But Europe wants more.

It wants to see that those reforms are being implemented.

And now there is a high-profile trial with a good number of EU observers and parliamentarians, showing month after month that in some of the most important parts of the Turkish state nothing has changed.

An Italian MEP spat one word at me outside the court.

"Farce", she said. "Farce". The next hearing is in November.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"Leyla Zana's career as a member of parliament did not last long"

Kurdish 'test-case' drags on
17 Oct 03  |  Europe
Europe welcomes Turkish reforms
03 Aug 02  |  Europe

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