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Turkey Jails Editor for 21 Years

A Turkish court has sentenced the editor of a Kurdish newspaper to 21 years in prison for printing what it called Kurdish rebel propaganda. The stiff sentence is part of an ongoing crackdown on legal Kurdish groups. But, the government says its still committed to ending the conflict with the PKK.

Judges in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the mostly Kurdish southeast, this week found Ozan Kilinc, editor of the daily Azadiya Welat Ozan, guilty on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

They said Kilinc had allowed the daily to publish photographs and texts praising the PKK during 12 editions in June 2009.

The articles described the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, as the "leader of the Kurdish people". But, Turkish officials say it had failed to describe Turkish soldiers killed in battle as "martyrs". That was sufficient under Turkey's anti-terror laws to be guilty of supporting terrorism.

The PKK, which launched an armed campaign against the Turkish state for greater Kurdish rights, is branded a terrorist organization by Ankara, the European Union and Washington.

The newspaper has had to replace six editors in three years because the editors had to either flee the country to avoid imprisonment or were jailed.

But the jailing of its latest editor comes as the Turkish government has committed itself to ending a 25-year conflict with the PKK. Observers say the ongoing crackdown on Kurdish activists could be undermining such efforts.

According to Turkish human rights groups, in the last year nearly a thousand members of the country's legal Kurdish movement have been arrested under Turkey's anti-terror laws.

On Wednesday night in Diyarbakir, hundreds of Kurdish activists - including the city's mayor - marched through the streets to start on going campaign against the arrests . One of campaign organizers explained the protest.

"We are calling for everybody to turn off their lights for two minutes at 8pm for freedom, justice and equality," he said.

State prosecutors claim the detentions are part of a nationwide investigation into links between legal Kurdish parties and the PKK.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party government has expanded the rights of minority Kurds since it took office in 2002. But efforts to launch a so-called "Kurdish initiative" were dealt a blow after the Constitutional Court last year shut down a Kurdish party for what it said were links to the PKK.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly challenged Turkey's harsh anti-terrorism laws.

Observers say the latest sentencing of Ozan Kilinc will raise questions again in the EU over freedom of the press in Turkey, and whether it is really making sufficient progress in its bid to join its ranks.