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Wednesday, June 2, 1999 Published at 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK

World: Europe

Turkey's trial of the century

Mr Ocalan's capture was regarded as a major political coup

By Chris Morris in Ankara

Since his capture in February, Abdullah Ocalan has been held as the only inmate in what may be the most heavily guard prison in the world.

The Ocalan File
The island of Imrali, in the sea of Marmara south of Istanbul, has been declared a military exclusion zone.

Naval and coast guard vessels patrol the surrounding seas, helicopters have been guarding the skies above and elite commando units have been deployed on the island itself.

Despite this extraordinary level of security, the authorities are taking no chances.

Bullet-proof cage

[ image: Island setting for high-security trial]
Island setting for high-security trial
Mr Ocalan stands trial inside a bullet-proof glass cage in a converted cinema in the prison.

The few people allowed to attend the trial each day are subjected to the most minute searches, and are not allowed to take anything with them, not even a pencil.

The case against Abdullah Ocalan is comprehensive.

A 139-page indictment prepared by state security court prosecutors accuses him of treason and attempting to divide the Turkish state by force.

Death penalty

The charges carry a mandatory death penalty, and public opinion in Turkey is running strongly in favour of execution.

"We have been living through this terrorism for the last 15 years," said Turkish journalist Fehmi Koru. "And many people in this country have sentenced Ocalan in their minds."

So much so, that there are those who view a trial as unnecessary. Lawyers representing Mr Ocalan have complained of police harassment and brutality.

They also say it has been impossible to prepare a proper defence because their access to their client has been severely restricted and constantly monitored.

Fair trial

[ image: Kurds around the world are watching events]
Kurds around the world are watching events
"He should have a fair open trial in accordance with international law and the European convention", said Neil Hicks of the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

"But what we have seen to date does not make us confident that that will be the way the proceedings are dealt with."

There are some signs that the trial may be adjourned shortly after it begins, to allow time for reform in the state security system, which still includes a military judge.

Nevertheless it is clear that the Turkish state has a strong case against Mr Ocalan - he has led a violent armed rebellion.

His defence, however, could prove embarrassing for Turkey, which may find itself in the dock as well. Thousands of unsolved murders and the forced evacuation of villages in the mainly Kurdish south-east of the country have caused deep resentment against the state.

Building bridges

Mr Ocalan will not simply try to go on the offensive, however. He is hardly bargaining from a position of strength, but he may hint that he could be useful in the future to build bridges.

"He will offer himself as an actor of peace this time," said political analyst Dogu Ergil. "But my hunch is that the establishment will not accept and render this role to him."

For his Kurdish supporters in Turkey and around the world, Abdullah Ocalan remains a hero. But the Turkish state is in no mood to compromise with a man it regards as a dangerous criminal.

At the end of his trial a judge is likely to snap a pencil in half - to symbolise the imposition of the death penalty.

At that point another debate will begin, on whether execution by hanging should actually be carried out.

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