Campaign to Free Leyla Zana

blood divider

... speaking of the existence of the Kurdish people, of the land of Kurdistan, demanding a peaceful recognition of the culture and identity of the Kurds in a democratic system and within existing borders, makes me 'a member of the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK]' even though that party is engaged in a war with the Turkish state and I search for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem. -- Leyla Zana

The tragic struggle of the Kurdish people, which has continued for so long, originates in the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination. -- Leyla Zana

I object to everything that the court accuses me of. Our ideas are known to all; We fight within the framework of democracy for human rights and brotherhood among people. We will continue to the end of our life. -- Leyla Zana

It is now no longer possible to contemplate the Kurds without the PKK or the PKK without the Kurds. -- Leyla Zana

In supporting the effort to free Leyla Zana, I am appealing for a more tolerant world, in which all political prisoners such as Leyla Zana and Xanana Gusmao are liberated, and all repressive governments, such as Turkey and Indonesia are judged, not according to self-serving expediency, but according to morality. -- Dr Jose Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Leyla Zana, former member of the Turkish parliament, recipient of the 1995 Sakharov Peace Prize, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, languishes in a Turkish jail, sentenced in December 1994 to 15 years imprisonment. Her 'crime' was to speak on behalf of the Kurdish people.


In the spring of 1990, HEP, the Peoples Labour Party, was formed to speak on behalf of the Kurds. On 14 July 1993, HEP was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that it violated the constitution. Up until that ruling at least 48 of the party's officials had been murdered by death squads.

DEP, the Democracy Party, the successor party to HEP was similarly targeted. 4 September 1993, Mehmet Sincar MP was gunned down whilst walking down the street and killed. Metin Ozdemir local party chairman was killed and four other people wounded in the same attack. 10 September 1996, a bomb attack on the house of Mehmet Sincar's father, the probable target was Leyla Zana who was present to offer her condolences. In the same month, Yasar Kaya, leader of DEP, was detained by Anti-Terror Police.

December 1993, the Ankara State Prosecutor instituted proceedings to ban DEP which ultimately led to its closure. Bombings of DEP offices and intimidation and harassment of officials and members followed.

March 1994, the Turkish National Grand Assembly removed parliamentary immunity from DEP MPs. This immediately led to the arrest of six DEP MPs: Hatip Dicle, Leyla Zana, Orhan Dogan, Sirri Sakik, Ahmet Turk and Mahmut Alinak. July 1994, two more MPs, Sedat Yurtdas and Selim Sadak, automatically lost their seats and were arrested following the decision of the Constitutional Court (16 June 1994) to dissolve DEP.

December 1994, the DEP MPs were found guilty under various articles of the Penal Code and were sentenced from 3 to 15 years. Sentences later confirmed by the Supreme Court. A couple of the MPs have recently been given conditional release from prison.

The imprisonment of the MPs has been condemned by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and several other parliamentary groups.

March 1994, the European Commission referred the case of the Kurdish MPs to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In the view of the Commission (by unanimous decision) Turkey had breached three fundamental human rights - the right to a prompt trial, the right to challenge the lawfulness of detention and the right to compensation for unlawful detention.

March 1997, the European Parliament discussed the fate of Leyla Zana. In a message from prison, Leyla Zana reminded them of the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people which was enshrined in international law, that a peaceful solution could only be achieved by including the PKK in any negotiations.

April 1997, the case of Leyla Zana and her fellow MPs was heard before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

At a ruling given on 26 November 1997 the European Court of Human Rights found by unanimous decision there had been breaches of basic human rights provisions including the right to a prompt trial, compensation was awarded.

Leyla Zana

Leyla Zana, mother of two, born in 1961, was the first Kurdish woman to be elected to the Turkish Grand National Assembly. She took her seat as a DEP representative, the pro-Kurdish Democracy Party, for Diyarbakir.

Leyla Zana was elected in October 1991 with a huge majority. Following removal of parliamentary immunity, she along with several other Kurdish MPs was arrested in March 1994. She was sentenced in December 1994 to 15 years imprisonment by the State Security Court for speaking on behalf of the Kurds, her fellow MPs received similar sentences.

Her case has been taken up by the European Parliament, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group, Inter-Parliamentary Union, Amnesty International, Article XIX, and Human Rights Watch.

On taking office Leyla Zana swore her oath in Kurdish. She was immediately denounced as a terrorist. Two years later (May 1993) she addressed the Helsinki Commission before the US Congress. She spoke of the destruction of Kurdish villages and urged the US to side with the forces of democracy. Her appeal fell on deaf ears. The speech was later to be used to charge Leyla Zana with 'treason' for advocating 'separatism'.

The case of Leyla Zana has been given international support and prominence by Freedom for Leyla Zana, Action for Kurdish Woman, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and many human rights, women's and parliamentary groups. Individual supporters include Bianca Jagger, Lady Antonia Fraser and Pauline Green MEP.

Various campaigns are running to free Leyla Zana. Amnesty International has adopted her as a Prisoner of Conscience. Thousands of women around the world have offered to spend a day in a Turkish jail in return for a days freedom being granted to Leyla Zana. Following a fact finding mission to Turkey by four US Congressmen, Congressman John Edward Porter (Republican, Illinois) wrote to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to nominate Leyla Zana for the Nobel Peace Prize. His initiative has been taken up by the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) who are asking all former laureates, members of legislatures, professors of history, philosophy and political science to add their names to the growing list of nominees for Leyla Zana.

Following politically pressure by the US, Leyla Zana has been offered freedom on the grounds of 'ill-health', this she has courageously refused on the grounds that she is in excellent health.

Lord Avebury, Turkey's Kurdish Policy in the Nineties [Democracy at Gunpoint, Parliamentary Human Rights Group, June 1996]

Mark Muller, Nationalism and the Rule of Law in Turkey [Democracy at Gunpoint, Parliamentary Human Rights Group, June 1996]

Leyla Zana: Kurdish Cry of Protest rises from Prison Cell, The Times, 7 September 1974

Turkey: The colour of their clothes - Turkish deputies serve 15 years' imprisonment for expression of Kurdish political identity, Amnesty International, 1997

A Challenge for Turkey, Kurdistan Report, No 25 July-August 1997

Freedom for Leyla Zana, Kurdistan Report, No 25 July-August 1997

Leyla Zana - The Time to act is now, Kurdistan Report, No 26 Jan-March 1998

Leyla Zana, Now is the time for liberation, Kurdistan Report, No 26 Jan-March 1998

Leyla Zana - To kill our ideas? Impossible, Kurdistan Report, No 26 Jan-March 1998

Bianca Jagger, Appeal to the British Prime Minister, Kurdistan Report, No 26 Jan-March 1998

Free Leyla Zana, American Kurdish Information Centre

The Fast for Peace in Kurdistan the Freedom of Leyla Zana, American Kurdish Information Centre

Further information on the Campaign to Free Leyla Zana may be obtained from:
Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, 44 Ainger Road, London NW3 3AT
tel/fax +44-171-586-5892 / tel +44-171-250-1315 / fax +44-171-250-1317
American Kurdish Information Network, 2623 Connecticut Ave NW #1, Washington, DC 20008-1522
tel +1-202-483-6444 / fax +1-202-483-6476

Justice in Turkey?
(c) Keith Parkins 1998 -- July 1998 rev 2