Scores of Kurdish politicians have been detained by Turkish authorities under suspicion of conspiring with alleged terrorists. But critics say the crackdown is a politically motivated attempt to silence opposition.
Kurds in Turkey are demanding more rights
In Turkey, a dozen Kurdish mayors as well as scores of other officials belonging to the main pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) face trial on charges of conspiring with an alleged terrorist group, the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK).
The latest hearing in the so called KCK trial again ended in controversy on Tuesday after defense lawyers boycotted the proceeding. The lawyers are demanding that the case be heard in the defendants' native Kurdish language, a request that the court have repeatedly denied. Political controversy has plagued the trial since it began two years ago.
"This KCK trial is one of the most brutal attempts to inflict a blow on BDP politics, using the judiciary mechanism," Ertugral Kurkcu, a member of parliament for the pro-Kurdish BDP, said.
"Many of them are elected people," Kurkcu said. "Many of them are trade union leaders, all influential politicians. They have no relation with violence."
Prosecutors, on the other hand, claim that members of the country's legal Kurdish movement are part of a terrorist conspiracy to support the Kurdish rebel group the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is locked in a decades-long violent struggle with the Turkish state.
In total, 2000 people have been detained in the investigation, which has cast a shadow on the Turkish government's claims that they want a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict over Kurdish rights. The scale of the detentions has raised concerns within the European Union (EU), which Turkey hopes to join despite a stalled accession process.
The Turkish government continues to fight the PKK
"I'm told 7,500 pages [are] on the indictment list, but not one mention of any weapon or any violence," said Richard Howitt, a spokesman on Turkish affairs for the socialist group in the European Parliament.
"[This] seems to suggest that those who say that this is a set of political trials against Kurdish political activists, that what they say maybe true," Howitt added.
But members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deny accusations that the trial is an attempt to silence political opposition and claim that the issue at hand is security.
"It is not because they have written something in the newspapers or because they had said something," said Volkan Bozkir, a member of parliament's foreign affairs committee for the AKP.
"They are part of a terrorist organization," Bozkir said. "And they have been helping those terrorists who are killing young people."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has committed himself to introducing a new constitution that will address many of the grievances of the country's Kurdish minority, which makes up around a fifth of the population. But critics warn that the ongoing trial undermines the legitimacy of the government's efforts.
Erdogan has promised a constitution that addresses Kurdish rights
"It's purely a political trial," said scientist Cengiz Aktar. "The government has no strategy on the solution of the Kurdish problem and plays only through tactics and this is yet another tactic."
The KCK trials are being held as fighting between the army and the PKK continues to intensify. There is no sign of an end to the investigation and legal proceedings. Last month saw the first convictions in the KCK investigation with five defendants receiving a total of 57 years in jail.
Pro-Kurdish deputy Kurkcu warns that the ongoing trials and continued arrests serve to only provide more recruits for the PKK.
"This is one of the reasons why young people are going to the mountains," Kurkcu said. "This example shows them that if they continue with daily politics their end is going to the prison."
Author: Dorian Jones, Istanbul / slk
Editor: Andreas Illmer