Euro Deputy visits jailed Kurdish activist in Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters) – European parliamentarian Daniel Cohn-Bendit visited Kurdish activist and former parliament member Leyla Zana in a Turkish jail on Monday and urged Ankara to change strict laws under which Islamist and Kurdish politicians are often tried.

Cohn-Bendit’s visit to the Ankara prison should allow the resumption of meetings between EU membership candidate Turkey and the European Parliament which had stopped after Ankara initially refused Cohn-Bendit permission to visit Zana.

Zana–39–is some six years into a 15-year jail term after being convicted of links to Kurdish separatist guerrillas. Her arrest along with five other members of parliament sparked an outcry from Europe over freedom of expression in Turkey.

Asked whether Zana should apply for a release on health grounds–Bendit said in televised commen’s:

"Her problem is not a health problem. Her problem is the anti-terrorism law–which she wants to be changed…Turkey must allow freedom of expression."

The European Parliament in 1995 awarded Zana its Sakharov prize for freedom of thought.

Since Turkey won candidacy for European Union membership last year it has come under fresh scrutiny for its human rights record and laws that activists say curb freedom of speech.

Cohn-Bendit mentioned human rights activist Akin Birdal and Islamist politician Necmettin Erbakan as recent victims of anti-sedition laws similar to those under which Zana is jailed.

He also met Turkish human rights activists and representatives of those who have lost family members in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict.

The European Union opposes the death penalty–a sanction faced by Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

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