|Swiss president of the European Court of Human Rights Lutzius Wildhaber (r) and Britain's Judge Paul Mahoney announce the judgement in the case Ocalan vs Turkey|
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the 1999 trial in Turkey of Kurdish separatist-leader Abdullah Ocalan was unfair. The ruling, which comes as Turkey is preparing for membership negotiations with the European Union, could put pressure on Ankara to grant the jailed rebel leader a new trial.
Abdullah Ocalan was captured by Turkish agents in Kenya six-years ago and flown back to Turkey to stand trial. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to death.
Although the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, the European Court of Human Rights judged that the trial did not meet international standards and that Ocalan was not given proper access to a lawyer.
At the tribunal's headquarters in Strasbourg, France, Judge Luzius Wildhaber said the court…
"…holds by 13 votes to four that there has been a violation of article three as regards the imposition of the death penalty following an unfair trial," said Luzius Wildhaber.
Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2002 as part of its campaign to join the European Union. But the court ruled that Ocalan's trial was neither independent nor impartial. It also said he was not brought promptly before a judge after his arrest and that his lawyers did not have enough time to prepare his defense.
The court is not a branch of the European Union but of the Council of Europe, the continent's main human-rights body. Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe, so the court's ruling is binding. Though it did not order Turkey to re-try Ocalan, the court suggested a new trial would be the most appropriate way of redressing what it considers to be legal flaws in his original trial.
The court's verdict must still be approved by the Council of Europe.
Ocalan, who led a 15-year rebellion by Kurdish guerrillas for independence until he was caught, is considered a terrorist by most Turks and is widely hated. Turkish diplomats in Brussels say they fear that a re-trial could trigger an explosion of Turkish nationalism and that this could upset plans for the start of Turkey's membership talks with the European Union in October.
Strong support among Turks for joining the European Union has slipped in recent months because many feel the bloc is putting too many conditions on Turkey and is essentially unwilling to ever let a large, poor, overwhelmingly Muslim nation become a member.
The Turkish government reacted calmly to the court's ruling, stressing that it applied only to procedural errors, not to the guilty verdict that Ocalan was given.
The deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, says Turkey will take whatever steps are necessary to fulfill its legal obligations.