Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Turkey, Hundreds of Minors Imprisoned on 'Terrorism' Charges

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Turkey, Hundreds of Minors Imprisoned on 'Terrorism' Charges

Article excerpt

Few would peg Hebun Akkaya, a 17-year-old with a high, nasal voice and polite manner, as a criminal convicted of supporting a terrorist organization. But the criminal court here in Diyarbakir did. The crime: protesting the prison conditions of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Designated a terrorist organization by the European Union and United States, the PKK enjoys grass-roots support among citizens here in Turkey's predominately Kurdish southeast. "I never thought I could go to prison for throwing a stone," says Hebun, who spent 10 months in an adult prison awaiting his initial trial. "I become really angry when I think that just for throwing a stone they were asking to put me away for 28 years. It's unjust." Now out on bail pending an appeal, he faces an amended sentence of seven years. Hebun is one of hundreds of minors, some as young as 13, who have been arrested and jailed in Turkey over the past few years under strict new antiterrorism laws that allow for juveniles to be tried as adults and even be accused of "committing crimes in the name of a terrorist organization" for participating in demonstrations. Critics and rights defenders say the amended antiterrorism laws are deeply flawed and also violate international conventions on the detention of children. "There is a lack of proportionality between the crime and the sentence," says Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher for the New York-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch. "Counting what these children do, such as throwing stones or damaging property, as a terrorism offense is a problem." "You are subject to a court system that doesn't see you as a child," adds Ms. Sinclair-Webb. Over 1,500 minors prosecuted under antiterror law As part of its European Union membership drive, Turkey has updated its penal code to more closely reflect European and international standards. But observers say the country took a step backward with a 2006 amendment to the country's antiterror law that made it possible to try minors between the ages of 15 and 18 as adults when the crime is deemed to involve terrorism. That same year, Turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that children taking part in demonstrations supported by the PKK could be charged with aiding or acting in the name of the organization. According to Turkish officials, 1,572 minors were prosecuted under the antiterror law and 174 of them were convicted during 2006 and 2007. Hundreds more court cases against minors have been launched since then. "The court's decision is very dangerous for the rule of law and for individual freedoms," says Tahir Elci, a Diyarbakir lawyer who is defending several of the jailed children. "According to the high court's decision, prosecutors don't need evidence to claim that somebody committed crimes on behalf of the PKK. …

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