Turkish Court Jails Kurdish Leaders for Flag Desecration

ANKARA (Reuter)–A court Wednesday sentenced 31 leading members of Turkey’s main Kurdish party to up to six years in jail for aiding Kurdish separatist rebels and a youth who tore down a Turkish flag to 22 and a half years–court officials said.

The Ankara State Security Court convicted them of acting as a front group for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). It found 14 other defendants not guilty on Wednesday–court officials said.

Murat Bozlak–the leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HADEP)–and one other party member received six years.

"A close link was discovered between HADEP and the illegal terror organization PKK," judge Orhan Karadeniz told the court.

"The trial was completely political," defense lawyer Yusuf Alatas told Reuters. "The court did not look at the case from a legal point of view." He said lawyers would appeal.

Bozlak was among 47 people arrested at a HADEP congress last June when the Turkish flag was torn down and replaced with PKK banners.

The youth who tore down the flag was jailed for 22 and a half years and 29 other HADEP members received a sentence of four and a half years.

The trial started last September. One other HADEP member arrested at the congress is being tried in another court.

The PKK members have been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey for almost 13 years.

HADEP–which does not advocate violence–was formed in 1994 after another Kurdish party was closed by the constitutional court for alleged separatism and 13 of its deputies were expelled from parliament.

Six of that party’s parliamentarians were later jailed for links with the Kurds.

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