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Controversial Court Case Puts Pressure on Turkey

The failure of an appeal by Kurdish rights activist Layla Zana has prompted the EU to warn Turkey that all political prisoners must be released before the country can join the EU.

The European Commission on Wednesday condemned the decision by Turkey's State Security Court to uphold the verdict against Kurdish rights activist Layla Zana and four other co-accused, saying it cast a "negative shadow" over Turkey's reform efforts. Zana - a Saakarov prize winner and former Turkish MP on Tuesday lost her appeal against a 15 year prison sentence after she was charged with being a member of a rebel group. "Mrs. Zana was imprisoned and sentenced for having expressed opinions in a non-violent way," said a spokesperson for EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen. "So for us she is a political prisoner." Asked what impact it would have on Turkey's bid for EU entry, the spokesperson said: "This is certainly an element that we would have to take into account." Ankara's military establishment - as well as the government - are likely to see the unusually strong comments as a warning that Turkey's next batch of legislative reforms must curb the army's influence over the judiciary. The European Commission is due to publish a crucial report on whether Ankara has met the political criteria for EU membership in October. EU leaders will then decide in December, on the basis of the report, whether to open accession negotiations with the country. (EUobserver.com)

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