The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled Thursday that Turkey's trial of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan was unfair and in breach of the European Convention on Human rights.
A reviled figure in Turkey
Ocalan has been held in solitary confinement on the island Imrali for six years, convicted of treason. Turkey blames the leader of the PKK for the 15-year war between his Kurdish separatist group and Turkish security forces in the south-east of the country, which claimed some 30,000 lives.
Repercussions for EU bid
Although not binding, the Strasbourg ruling puts pressure on Ankara to give Ocalan a retrial -- a move bound to stir up controversy ahead of Turkey's bid for EU accession.
"In light of Turkey's accession negotiations, a new trial would be highly significant," said German-Kurdish Member of the European Parliament Feleknas Uca.
Rolf Gössner, president of the League of Human Rights, agrees. "The way this case is being dealt with is key to the credible development of human rights in Turkey," he told Deutsche Welle.
No call for re-trial
"A new trial is not explicitly ordered," said Ocalan's lawyer Marc Müller, "but the judgement indicates that the court believes this is the best option."
But according to observers, Ocalan would, in all likelihood, be convicted again. "Ocalan will be given the same sentence even if he is tried one hundred times," said Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül (photo) this week.
Arrested in Kenya in 1999 amid public jubilation in Turkey, Ocalan was tried and condemned to capital punishment under a justice system now abolished by Ankara as part of sweeping reforms to bring the country into line with EU entry conditions. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey scrapped the death penalty in 2002, in line with EU requirements.
The court in Strasbourg confirmed an earlier ruling that the trial was unfair, because a military judge was present for some of the hearings, Ocalan only had restricted access to his lawyers, and he was treated inhumanely while in custody.
Grudging respect for ruling
The European Union said it expects Turkey to respect the ruling on Ocalan's trial.
"The European Commission expects that Turkey will respect this decision of the court of human rights. Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe so it is a duty to implement all the decisions of the court," an EU spokesman told reporters.
Turkey expressed discontent with the court ruling but said it would address the flaws in his conviction in a move that will help the country keep its EU membership bid on track.
A senior lawmaker from the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), Sadullah Ergin, immediately branded the ruling "undesired," while the party's deputy chairman said Turkey would take steps to fulfill its obligations.
"The Turkish Republic is a state based on the rule of law and
will undertake the procedures that the law requires," Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat told reporters in Ankara.