Ocalan Lawyers Beaten As Trial Date Set for May 31

ANKARA (Reuters)–Six lawyers for the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan alleged on Friday they had been beaten by police after a court hearing and were considering withdrawing from his treason trial–now set for May 31.

A spokesman for the police denied they had been involved in any beating.

Lawyers said that after an Ankara court had set a date for the trial on the Imrali prison island on Friday–they were driven away from the building by police in a minibus past crowds of angry anti-Ocalan demonstrators.

After a short trip–the bus stopped unexpectedly in a business area in central Ankara–they said.

"After they stopped the bus we were on they told us to get out and as we were getting out they began beating us with their truncheons–and kicking us," lawyer Zeki Okcuoglu told Reuters.

Okcuoglu–sitting in a restaurant in central Ankara–showed bruises on his arm.

Another lawyer had bruises on his back and a black eye. They showed hospital reports which detailed bruises to the body and head.

"I think the state will continue the case without the defense side," Okcuoglu said. "Under these conditions we cannot mount a healthy defense. We will weigh the situation and consider whether to withdraw."

Turgut Okyay–chief judge of Ankara state security court–told the hearing Ocalan’s trial would be held in a specially constructed court on the top security island–where the rebel chief has been the sole prisoner since his capture in February.

A panel of one military and two civilian judges said the trial would proceed "without pause" until a verdict was reached. Prosecutions in Turkey can often drag on for years with hearings adjourned for months at a time.

Turkish authorities are keen for a speedy conclusion to the trial of Ocalan–who faces possible execution for leading the 14-year-old armed campaign by his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for self-rule in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

The Kurdish leader is also charged with ordering the killings of thousands of members of the security forces–state employees and their families.

Around 150 relatives of those killed by the PKK packed the courtroom–holding pictures of their loved ones and hurling insults at the 16 lawyers there to defend Ocalan.

"Dishonorable traitors," one shouted. Police held back a crowd of anti-Ocalan protesters who surged forward in an apparent attempt to attack the defense lawyers as they arrived at the court.

The presiding judge interrupted proceedings twice to try to silence the families but failed to halt the cat-calls. Some women fainted in the heat.

The sound of the crowd chanting outside filled the court.

"Imrali will be a grave for the dog," they shouted. A former prime minister and two ex-ministers were hanged on the island in 1961. Turkey retains the death penalty but has not executed a convict since the mid-1980s.

The Ankara court hearing combined three separate treason trials which had been launched against Ocalan in his absence before he was snatched by Turkish special forces in Kenya.

The case is being closely watched by Europe and the United States–who have demanded Ocalan be given a fair and open trial. Turkey refuses to allow official observers to watch proceedings–but says it will let anyone attend in a private capacity.

A representative for rights group Amnesty International who was at the hearing condemned the attacks on Ocalan’s lawyers. "The role of the defense is not to be identified with the alleged crime of the person involved," Wesley Gryk told reporters outside the gray concrete court complex in central Ankara.


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