EU candidate Turkey has been strongly condemned in a report by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch for jailing peaceful Kurdish demonstrators.
The 75-page report by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, says hundreds of people have been imprisoned for participating in a peaceful Kurdish rights demonstration. Report author Emma Sinclair Webb says it is a worrying new trend.
"In the penal code you have some very widely drawn provisions which have been used in the last three years to charge demonstrators and prosecute demonstrators as though they are members of an armed terrorist organization," said Webb.
The report says that is because Turkey's highest court has ruled that anyone who participates in a demonstration that is being supported by the banned Kurdish rebel group the PKK or its media affiliates can be considered to be a member or supporter of that organization.
Bulent Aliriza, Dir. of the Turkey Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently returned from Turkey:
The PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for greater Kurdish rights for the past 25 years.
Sinclair Webb says the report includes 26 cases studies.
"The implications are that for offenses as minor as clapping or shouting a pro-PKK slogan or doing a victory sign during a demonstration you can get a six- or seven-year sentence," she said.
In one case, a student was jailed for six years for making a victory sign at a funeral for PKK rebels. In another, a mother of three children was sentenced to seven years for holding a banner calling for negotiations with the jailed leader of the PKK.
At a press conference, Sinclair Webb said there appears to be a systematic crackdown on the legal activities of the country's legal Kurdish rights movement.
Turkey's bid to join the European Union is stalled over opposition from some members because of what they see as Turkey's poor human-rights record. But Turkey's government justifies its actions by saying it is engaged in a fight with a ruthless terrorist organization that has infiltrated large segments of the country's Kurdish population.