Referring to PKK chief as leader a democratic right, court rules

24 October 2012 / TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL – Four people who referred to jailed terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) head Abdullah Öcalan as “our leader” have the right to accept the PKK head as their leader as a democratic right, an İstanbul court has said.

Four PKK members, Beyaz Y., Mesil D., Hazine, A. and Neriman T., who are serving jail time over a terrorism-related conviction, wrote to the Ministry of Justice, saying they had to be released, as they accepted Öcalan as their leader. A prosecutor filed charges of praising a criminal against the four PKK members, in a trial heard by the İstanbul Bakırköy 6th Criminal Court of Peace. The court ruled for their acquittal of the charge, saying: “It can’t be expected for all to accept the same person as a leader. Even though it [referring to Öcalan as leader] is offensive to most segments of society, it should be tolerated in a democracy.”

The verdict was only issued recently, although the trial began in 2008. The reasoned opinion of the court was released last week. The court said: “Individuals have the right to address people they revere using terms of respect or adoration. Although it is a known fact that the individual being referred to as a leader is offensive for large segments of society, it is also a fact that democracies based on the rule of law are regimes of tolerating differences. Given that the defendants are imprisoned as members of a terrorist organization and the person they have written in favor of is the chief of the same organization, the expressions used by the suspects in reference to that person do not constitute the attributed crime.”

The prosecutor had argued that the convicts, using the words “esteemed” and “leader of the Kurdish people” in their letter, were committing the crime of praising a criminal. The court also said that criminal law was not interested in the character of an individual and that in democracies people have the right to accept as their leader “the wrong person” or a convicted criminal if they wish to do so.