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Turkey: Is general amnesty a possibility?

Monday 26 October 2009, by SEDAT ERGİN


Bringing down the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, terrorists from the mountain is an attempt that should be welcomed if it ends terror. However, the attempt in the frame of Article 211 of the Turkish Penal Code, or TCK, will inevitably generate a series of problems and contradictions in terms of perception of justice and the legal system in general.

Article 221 is flexible enough for the release of the PKK members. The second clause is quite obvious: “Any member of a terror organization is exempted from any penalty as long as he or she voluntarily confesses and surrenders to security officials before taking part in any criminal act.” The law does not seek penitence for release, being voluntary seems enough.

One of the flaws is that the PKK militants arriving in the town of Silopi called the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan “your honor.” Turkish courts generally give one-year sentences to people calling Öcalan “your honor,” according to Article 215 in the TCK. Penal Chamber No. 8 of the Supreme Court approves the ruling. If the Supreme Court jurisprudences are essential and if the PKK members insist on calling Öcalan “your honor,” they may face court cases.

Let me bring a more important contradiction to your attention here:

PKK militants coming from the Kandil Mountains to Habur border gate this week had joined the organization voluntarily. They were trained to fight and acted upon free will to become terrorists. They were sent from Kandil with ceremony. After testifying in a court set up at the border, they were released on the judge’s decision. On the other hand, many PKK sympathizers in Turkey handing out flyers or throwing stones at the police are in prison.

Terrorists from Kandil are out, stone throwers are in prision

In Article 215 a person who “praises a crime or a criminal (Öcalan)” is given an imprisonment of up to three years. There are similar paragraphs in the Counter-Terrorism Law too.

In this respect, last year’s decision by the Supreme Court’s General Board of Criminal Chambers is of a great deal of importance. The decision number 2008/44 reads that individuals who are involved in any acts of terror upon a call from the organization shall be treated as organization members.

In other words, attending the funeral ceremony of a PKK militant or joining protests upon calls by the organization, broadcast on ROJ TV for instance, is enough to be treated as a PKK member.

All in all, no one can deny the contradiction between setting terrorists trained in Kandil free and keeping children throwing stones at the police in prison.

Let’s discuss the matter in a broader sense, not only from the angle of PKK militants or sympathizers. Justice in a country takes its strength from social conscience. The sense of justice gets stronger only with fair treatment of all. Inequality harms social conscience.

Social break-up

Therefore, as terrorists are released, the freedom of those who have nothing to do with terror or who are detained or sentenced for petty crimes will be restricted. And that will unavoidably cause trouble, and pave the way for a social break-up. As a fellow citizen is kept in prison for a bad check due to the economic crisis, PKK militants are out and free. Society will of course be disturbed by such a double standard.

On top of this, there are 59,000 detainees and 55,000 convicts in Turkish prisons, according to Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin.

That means detainees or suspects outnumber convicts. In this case, the freedom of 59,000 is being restricted but PKK militants face no judicial proceeding. This is thought-provoking.

We know from past experiences that a limited amnesty introduced for a certain group hurts the equality principle. Therefore, through the extension of provisions it is applied to some other convicts by leaving ajar the door for a general amnesty.

In the end, we should acknowledge that a general amnesty process is being triggered by the legal treatment of PKK members.

* Mr. Sedat Ergin is a columnist for the daily Hürriyet in which this piece appeared on Friday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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Source: HDN, le 23.10.09

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