|EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS RULES IN LEYLA ZANA AND KURDISH MPs' CASE|
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS RULES IN LEYLA ZANA AND KURDISH MPs' CASE: TURKEY HAS VIOLATED THE RIGHT TO FREE ELECTIONS AND MUST PAY OVER €700,000 EUROS
For immediate release - 11th June 2002
In a significant decision handed down earlier today, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Turkey has violated the right to free elections in the case of renowned Kurdish Parliamentarian Leyla Zana and 12 other former DEP (Democracy Party) MPs whose party was dissolved by the Turkish Constitutional Court on 16 June 1994 . In its ruling, the Court declared that Turkey had violated "the very essence of the right to stand for election and to hold parliamentary office" and "had infringed the unfettered discretion of the electorate which had elected the applicants."
The DEP party, which was founded in May 1993, supported Kurdish political and cultural rights. The Kurdish MPs had caused friction with the government by taking their Parliamentary oaths in Kurdish. A number of them were arrested after leaving Parliament on the same day the DEP party was dissolved; others fled to Europe. Whilst the DEP party had representatives across Turkey, the 13 MPs had all stood in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish Southeast region.
The MPs case is the latest in a line of cases in which Turkey has been censured by the Court for dissolving political parties . However, this case is unique in that it the first time the Court has found Turkey in violation of the right to free elections (Article 3 of Protocol 1) under the European Convention on Human Rights. While previous European Court cases focused on the right of the parties themselves to exist, the ruling in this case focuses on both the right of the electorate to choose its own representatives and the very right of individuals to stand for parliament.
Ms Zana, who received the European Parliament's Sakharov Freedom of Thought in 1995, and three other DEP MPs remain incarcerated at the Ulucanlar prison in Ankara. In July 2001, the European Court ruled that they had been denied a fair trial in violation of Article 6.
KHRP brought the applications to the European Commission of Human Rights on 23 August and 16 December 1994. They were subsequently joined at the Court in May 1995.
Commenting on the case, Kerim Yildiz, Executive Director of the Kurdish Human Rights Project stated, "In light of Turkey's continued failure to respect the democratic processes most of us take for granted, this decision marks a positive step forward for the recognition of Kurdish political and cultural rights. Considering Turkey's on-going intimidation and harassment of many political representatives from both Kurdish and other minority parties, we hope the government of Turkey will take steps to uphold the right to free elections and democracy."
 The pro-Kurdish DEP party, which was founded in May 1993, survived just one year before being ordered to shut down by the Turkish Constitutional Court on 16 June 1994. Prior to that, on 2 March 1994, DEP MPs Mehmet Hatip Dicle and Orhan Dogan had been taken into police custody followed by the arrests of DEP MPs Sirri Sakik, Ahmet Turk and Leyla Zana two days later. Fearing similar prosecution, DEP MPs Nizamettin Toguc, Mahmut Kilinc, Remzi Kartal, Zubeyir Aydar and Naif Gunes fled to Brussels on 16 June 1994, the dame day that the Constitutional Court ordered the closure of DEP. Selim Sadak and Sedat Yurttas, the last two MPs to be arrested, were taken into police custody on 1 July 1994.
Sentences handed down by the Ankara State Security Council in December 1994 were severe, with Turk, Dicle, Dogan, Sadak and Zana receiving fifteen-year sentences for 'membership in an armed gang', Yurttas receiving seven years for 'assisting an armed gang' and Sakik getting a three year sentence for 'separatist propaganda'.
 Previous cases at the European Court in which Turkey was found guilty of violating Article 11 (freedom of association) for its banning of political parties include United Communist Party v Turkey (19392/92; judgment delivered 30/01/98); Socialist Party and others v Turkey (21237/93; judgment delivered 25/05/98); Freedom and Democracy Party (Ozdep) v Turkey (23885/94; judgment delivered 08/12/99); and Yazar, Karatas, Aksoy and the Peoples' Labour Party (HEP) v Turkey (22723-25/93; judgment delivered 09/04/02). Another case, Refah Partisi (Islamic Welfare Party) and others v Turkey (41340/98, 41342-4/98; judgment delivered 31/07/01), has been accepted to the Court's Grand Chamber for an appeal.