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Turkey Denied Ocalan Fair, Speedy Trial, says European Court - 2003-03-12


Europe's top human rights court ruled Wednesday that Turkey had denied Kurdish rebel Abdullah Ocalan a fair and speedy trial. The Strasbourg-based court rejected claims of other violations of the Kurdish leader's human rights.

The European Court of Human Rights declared that Ocalan had been denied the right to legal assistance and an impartial tribunal, and that he did not have a fair trial in 1999, when he went before a military tribunal. The court also awarded $110,000 to Ocalan's lawyers for legal expenses.

At the same time, the court rejected charges by Ocalan's lawyers that Turkey had violated his rights to freedom of speech and religion during his trial and imprisonment. The court also ruled Ocalan's spectacular arrest by Turkish commandos in Kenya in 1999 and his subsequent detention, had not violated Europe's human rights convention.

The court rejected arguments by Ocalan's lawyers against an earlier death sentence imposed on the Kurdish rebel leader. That sentence was commuted to life in prison last October, but two Turkish trade unions are appealing the decision.

Six of the seven European judges agreed that imposing the death penalty following an unfair trial violated Europe's human rights convention.

Both sides have three months to appeal the court's decision.

Known as uncle to his followers, Ocalan is now jailed in an isolated island off the Turkish coast. The Turkish government blames him for the deaths of more than 30,000 people, during a 16-year Kurdish insurgency, which Ocalan led from Syria.

From his prison cell, Ocalan declared a ceasefire in rebel fighting, which has largely been respected for the past three years.

The death sentence has been a fiercely contested issue in Turkey. A Turkish prime minister was hanged after a military coup in 1960. Turkey's last execution took place in 1984.

Last year, the Turkish government abolished executions as part of a series of measures to meet human rights standards of the European Union, which Turkey hopes to join.

But critics still argue Turkey's spotty human rights record falls short of EU standards. With that in mind, Turkey's new government must now decide whether to give Ocalan a new trial, based on the European court's ruling.