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Human Rights Violations by Turkish Security Forces Increasing - 2002-01-29


Human rights violations by Turkish security forces are reported to be on the rise again in the country's largely Kurdish southeastern provinces. The reported upturn in rights violations follows a period of marked decline in the number of such incidents.

Osman Baydemir is a lawyer in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey and chairman of the local branch of the Human Rights Association of Turkey. Mr. Baydemir says human rights violations in the region have risen sharply in recent months. To emphasize his point, the lawyer cites some cases from a thick red file he is holding.

In September, Mr. Baydemir says, government security forces in the eastern province of Van shot dead a deaf and mute shepherd after he failed to heed their demands to identify himself. The same month security forces allegedly shot dead two brothers in the southeastern province of Sirnak as they were planting their crops.

According to Mr. Baydemir, the security forces claim the brothers were members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Mr. Baydemir says victims' families deny they had any links with the rebels.

Arbitrary detentions and torture are being reported with increasing frequency since the beginning of last year when two officials of Hadep, the largest pro-Kurdish party in Turkey, disappeared in the southeastern town of Cizre after being called in by military police for questioning. The officials have not been heard from since. Those being targeted include members of the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party as well as students who are taking part in a freshly launched campaign to be educated in the Kurdish language.

Kurdish language education is constitutionally banned in Turkey, and government authorities say the language campaign is being orchestrated by the PKK.

Devlet Bahceli, a deputy prime minister in Turkey's coalition government, charges that the PKK is using the campaign and the students to stir up separatist feelings among Turkey's 12 million Kurds.

Muhammed Tasdemir is a biology student at the Dicle University in Diyarbakir. Mr. Tasdemir, who denies any connection with the PKK, told VOA he was detained for four days at the local police headquarters after signing a petition last month calling for the right to be educated in the Kurdish language.

Mr. Tasdemir says he was blindfolded and beaten and forced to listen to Turkish patriotic songs during his detention. He has been released from prison but is awaiting trial on charges of promoting Kurdish separatism.

Mr. Baydemir and other human rights advocates say the crackdown in Diyarbakir and other Kurdish areas represents a shift in government policy. Up until a year ago, they say, there had been a palpable softening in official attitudes. Many here attribute that shift to a unilateral ceasefire called by the PKK following the capture in 1999 of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

Following the ceasefire, the Ankara government appointed officials to senior posts in the southeastern provinces who won praise in the region for their tolerance and efforts to curb abuses by police and other security personnel.

Mr. Baydemir says for a while there was a sharp decline in extra-judicial killings and disappearances allegedly carried out by security forces. So what has changed?

Mr. Baydemir believes there is a link between the latest crackdown, including the campaign against the Kurdish language, and Turkey's importance in the eyes of Western governments since the terrorist attacks in September.

He charges that Western governments are keeping silent about the human rights violations because they need Turkey's cooperation in their fight against global terrorism.

Turkish officials dismiss such claims as nothing more that PKK propaganda and point to a series of constitutional reforms approved in October - after the attacks - by the Turkish parliament. The reforms, among other things, ease restrictions on broadcasting and education in the Kurdish language.

If security forces have become more active in the southeastern provinces, officials in Ankara say there is only one reason for that: increased activity by the PKK.