STRASBOURG (Reuters)–The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Turkey denied a fair trial to four jailed Kurdish former members of parliament–and ordered it to pay them $25,000 each in damages. In a separate ruling–the court said Turkey violated the right to life of a missing leftist militant who disappeared after he was detained by police nearly seven years ago.
The four Turkish ex-parliamentarians–members of the outlawed Democracy Party (DEP)–were jailed for 15 years in 1994 by Ankara’s State Security Court for belonging to an armed band.
Leyla Zana–Selim Sadak–Hatip Dicle and Orhan Dogan were initially accused of treason in relation to activities carried out on behalf of the separatist rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — charges later rejected by the Ankara court. The convictions brought criticism from the West and the European Parliament awarded Zana its Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought in 1995.
The four say they were convicted for representing the views of Kurds and developing peaceful solutions to the Kurdish issue.
Some 30,000 people–mostly Kurds–have been killed in more than 16 years of armed conflict in southeast Turkey between PKK fighters and Turkish security forces. Fighting has died down since Turkey captured rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.
The European court noted in its ruling that its judges had condemned the lack of impartiality at the State Security Court on several occasions in the past.
The plaintiffs said they were denied a fair trial–particularly because one of the judges was a military judge–a claim upheld by the Strasbourg-based court. The military judge has since been replaced by a civilian.
The seven European Court judges also ruled that the four had been unable to defend themselves adequately against the allegation of membership of an armed band and that defence lawyers had been unable to question a number of witnesses.
A summary of the ruling did not state whether Turkey had been asked to free or retry the former parliamentarians.
In the other case–the court ordered Turkey to pay $32,000 to the family of Kenan Bilgin–a member of the Turkish Revolutionary Communist Party who disappeared after police took him in for questioning in September 1994.
The judges–acting on a complaint from Bilgin’s family–rejected Turkish government denials that he had been held by anti-terrorist police and said he should be “presumed dead.”
It was not immediately clear whether Turkey would appeal against the judgemen’s to the European court’s Grand Chamber of 17 judges.