Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Thursday, 19 June 2008 11:59 UK

Kurdish child choir case dropped

The children on their way to the courts.  Photo:  courtesy of Antenna
The children did not intend to commit a crime, the judge said

A Turkish judge has thrown out a case against members of a Kurdish children's choir, who faced up five years in prison over a song they sang.

The choir - whose members are aged from 12 to 17 - was accused of spreading propaganda for the outlawed Kurdish separatist rebel group, the PKK.

Charges were brought after the group sang in a world music festival in San Francisco, and sang a march in Kurdish.

But as three of the choir appeared in court, it decided to drop the case.

A new prosecutor in the court in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir said there was no criminal case for the three teenagers, aged 15 to 17, to answer.

The judge agreed, saying the children had not intended to commit a crime.

The case against six younger choir-members, aged 12-15, which had been scheduled for July, is expected to be thrown out too, a lawyer for the children said.

Old Kurdish

The original prosecutor claimed the song "Ey Raqip", or "Hey, Enemy", is the anthem of the PKK - the separatist militant group Turkish troops have been fighting for two decades.


The children said they did not even understand the words of the song

The conflict has cost almost 40,000 lives.

The indictment also said PKK flags were displayed at the music festival - and accused the children of making propaganda for terrorists.

These events were not political propaganda, nor were they designed with a separatist agenda in mind
Michael Santoro
Festival organiser

Lawyers for the children said the song was an old Kurdish song that pre-dated the PKK.

One of the singers told the BBC the lyrics to the march were in an old form of Kurdish, and he and his friends did not even understand them. He said the choir wanted to showcase Kurdish culture, not engage in politics - and they only sang the march in response to a request from the audience.

Choir mistress accused

Michael Santoro, who is in charge of the San Francisco World Music Festival, and who personally invited the choir from Diyarbakir to take part, said: "These events were not political propaganda, nor were they designed with a separatist agenda in mind."

Photo:  courtesy of: Antenna
The song was performed during an international music festival

As for the prosecutor's claim that the children performed beneath PKK flags, Mr Santoro recalled that one audience member draped the flag of Kurdish northern Iraq on part of the stage, but said there were no PKK flags or insignia at the venue.

However, a lawyer for the children, Baran Pamuk, said he was angry because the judge's ruling meant that singing Ey Raqip remained a crime.

An arrest warrant for the choir mistress, Duygu Ozger Bayar, who stayed in the US after the festival to study English, remains in force.


There is far more freedom in Turkey today to speak or sing in Kurdish than when the PKK took up arms, in the days when even the existence of the Kurds was officially denied here, says the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Istanbul.

Private courses in the Kurdish language are now permitted and there is some Kurdish language broadcasting on Turkish state TV.

But there are still strict limits. Those who insist on a distinct Kurdish identity are widely viewed with suspicion and state prosecutors regularly file criminal charges for spreading PKK propaganda or for supporting separatism.

The main pro-Kurdish political party, the DTP, has 20 seats in the current parliament but is now on trial and facing closure. It is accused of having links to the PKK and being the "focus of activities against the integrity of the state".

Kurdish human rights groups also say many children who were involved in street protests that became riots in the south-east two years ago are still on trial there.

They have been charged with supporting the PKK - or even belonging to it.

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