TURKEY: Kurdish teenager convicted as terrorist for attending demonstration
On October 9, 15-year-old Berivan Sayaca left her parents’ home in Batman in southeast Turkey to pay a visit to her aunt. She never came home.
According to news reports, Turkish authorities charged that Sayaca stopped at a demonstration organized by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, known by the acronym PKK, and threw stones at police. Her advocates deny that she attended the protest and say she simply passed through the crowd. They say the rally was coordinated not by the PKK but by the recently banned Kurdish political party Peace and Democracy, or BDP.
In densely populated and economically suffering southeast Turkey, pro-Kurdish protests are commonplace. On some occasions, youths have thrown stones and gasoline bombs at police, who respond with tear gas and water cannons, the BBC reported.
Amnesty International says that an anti-terror law passed by the current Turkish government in 2006 states that minors can be convicted of terrorism and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Authorities argue that the Kurdish protests are coordinated by the PKK because the law presumes all Kurdish protests as PKK protests, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the BBC report. Anyone at the protests is considered a member of the PKK, authorities say, and the courts therefore rule that protesters are terrorists.
Since the law’s enactment, more than 700 minors have been convicted as terrorists. Today, more than 2,600 sit in Turkish prisons.
From her cell, Sayaca wrote to a local advocacy group, the Human Rights Assn., to request legal assistance.
"I’m drowning and imprisoned though I have committed no great crime," she wrote. "It is more than I can stand. I feel so much pain. I do not deserve to be here. You cannot imagine how terrible a place the prison is. Words are not enough to explain it. I'm so scared to spend the rest of my childhood in here. I want to be with my family, in my house, go to school, play with my friends. I want to be free instead of being in prison."
She decorated her plea with doodles of trees, hearts and roses.
Apparently as a punishment, prison authorities moved her to solitary confinement.
Sayaca’s family fears that the girl’s mental health has deteriorated. Her mother, Mariam, travels every week to visit her daughter for the 30 minutes the authorities will allow. Sayaca is not scheduled to be released until she is 23.
Last fall, Prime Minister Erdogan launched an initiative aimed at alleviating tension between the Turkish government and the Kurdish minority. It granted amnesty to several PKK members, and there was talk of loosening linguistic and educational restrictions. However, authorities arrested PKK members who returned to their community after they made public statements confirming their commitment to the Kurdish cause.
Over the past month, the recent "opening" has slammed shut, with violence escalating to early 1990s levels, Reuters reported. The military has stepped up operations in Hakkari and Diyarbakir.
Reports surfaced last week in the Independent Communication Agency, a Turkish news source supported by the European Union, that Turkish soldiers allegedly abused the dead bodies of nine PKK members. And Turkey has escalated its operations in northern Iraq as well, a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said.
Four thousand villages have been destroyed since the 1990s, 35,000 Kurds and 5,000 Turks have died, 119,000 Kurds are incarcerated and more than 17,000 Kurds have disappeared.
-- Becky Lee Katz in Beirut
Photos: Top: A recent photo of Berivan Sayaca. Below: Protesters gather in front of the Turkish Embassy in London to call for Sayaca's release. Credit: top, BBC; below, demotix.com.