Turkey puts 205 on trial over alleged links to Kurdish rebels
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The trial of 205 Turks, including prominent academics, accused of links with Kurdish rebels opened on Monday, Turkey’s state news agendy has reported. The trial is part of a crackdown on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party and its supporters.
AFP - A mass trial opened in Turkey on Monday of over 200 people accused of links with outlawed Kurdish rebels, part of a wider crackdown against what Ankara considers "terrorists" and their supporters.
In all, 205 suspects -- many of whom remain at large -- are on trial accused of links with the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), which the authorities say is the urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Anatolia news agency reported.
Prosecutors accuse the defendants, who include intellectuals, journalists and academics, of "aiding terrorism" and distributing "separatist propaganda," according to Anatolia.
A total of 140 suspects in the case have been arrested.
The defendants include members of Turkey's main Kurdish political organisation, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), as well as prominent academic Busra Ersanli and publisher Ragip Zarakolu.
"What they actually want to try here today is democratic politics," charged BDP vice-chair Gulten Kisanak, calling for a political solution to the problems of Turkey's large Kurdish minority.
"The issue of democracy, the Kurdish problem cannot be solved in courtrooms," she added.
Tensions ran high at the Istanbul court when many of the defendants insisted on speaking Kurdish, their native language.
"They speak Kurdish because they are Kurds. You can not pretend that a language spoken by 20 million people is unknown," defence lawyer Mehmet Emin Aktar said, Anatolia reported.
The trial is part of a wider crackdown against the outlawed Kurdish rebels and their supporters that began in 2009.
Since then, 700 people have been arrested pending trial over alleged links to the KCK, according to government figures, although critics say the true number arrested tops 3,500.
Ankara says the KCK wants to replace Turkish government institutions in the southeastern Anatolia region, which is majority Kurd, with its own political structures.
The number of Kurds living in Turkey is disputed, but is believed to be about 12 million.
Reporters Without Borders criticised the trial, saying it reflected the faults in the Turkish judicial system.
"Using guilt by association and interpreting the law in the most repressive manner possible, the justice system is equating outspoken intellectuals with armed terrorists," it said in a statement.
Monday's trial opened as the army said its warplanes had hit three locations in northern Iraq, believed to be Kurdish rebel hideouts, the third raid since a rebel attack on an army outpost last month killed eight Turkish soldiers.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in the Kurdish-majority southeast Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.
However, the government has been easing its stance on rights for the Kurdish community in Turkey, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying last month that the Kurdish language would be taught as elective course in public schools.