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Top Kurdish lawyer to face trial for 'terror apologist' comments

Tahir Elci has been accused of "terrorist propaganda" after saying on a TV show that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was not a terrorist group. Critics have called Turkey's freedom of expression record into question.

Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci was detained by police in a pre-dawn office raid early Tuesday morning for comments he made about the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). He stands accused of breaking Turkey's "terrorist propaganda law" and being a "terror apologist" for not classifying the PKK as a terrorist group during a television show last week.

An Istanbul court later ordered his release pending trial, but he is not permitted to leave the country and must report regularly to the authorities, said his lawyer Mehmet Emin Aktar.

In his defense, Elci told prosecutors that he was the "victim of a lynching campaign" and called upon his right to freedom of speech.

The comments which led to his detention were made last week on CNN Turk TV. "Even if some of the PKK's acts have a terrorist character, the PKK is an armed political movement," he said during the program. "It is a political movement with political demands and with very strong support in society."

Lawyers, local politicians and other supporters gathered at Elci's office in the southeastern majority Kurdish city of Diyarbakir to chant "pressure will not intimidate us," according to witnesses.

Elci, who also heads the Diyarbakir province bar association, said that his being detained "clearly shows the state of freedom of expression in Turkey today."

High tensions

A two-year ceasefire between Turkish security forces and PKK rebels was broken in July. Tensions are high in the southeastern regions of Turkey where hundreds have been killed in the past few months. The PKK declared a truce in advance of the November 1 parliamentary elections, but clashes have still

continued in the southeast.

The PKK is considered to be a terrorist organization not only by Turkey, but also by the United States and the European Union. The conflict between Turkey and the PKK has left 40,000 people dead since 1984.

rs/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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