Profession: Politician, Kurdish rights activist and former journalist
Imprisoned: 8 December 1994
Sentence: 15 years for pro-Kurdish rights activism. Additional two years for an article written in prison.
Expires: December 2011
Trial details: 1) At her inauguration as an MP in 1991, Zana reportedly identified herself as a Kurd. She is also reported to have worn a headband with the traditional Kurdish colours of yellow, green and red. These actions, and many of her public statements and actions of solidarity with the Kurds might well have led to charges being pressed against her, but she was for a time protected by her parliamentary immunity. However, in 1994, after she and three other Kurdish MPs joined the newly formed Democracy Party, which was quickly banned by the authorities, her immunity was lifted, and she and the other three were arrested. They were accused of treason and promptly jailed. The treason charge was soon dropped, but she was instead charged with membership of the illegal armed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Prosecutors at her trial relied on statements by witnesses who were themselves facing prosecution, and who later retracted their statements, claiming that they had been extracted under torture. Zana was found guilty and sentenced to a 15-year term.
2) Sentenced in 1998 to an additional 2 years for an article published in prison. The article, which does not advocate violence or racial hatred, was about Nevruz, a Kurdish holiday.
3) Following her retrial on 21 April 2004 Leyla Zana’s conviction and 15-year prison sentence were upheld by the Turkish courts.
Journalism and writing: worked in the 1990s for the now defunct Yeni Ulke at its Diyabakir office, and specialising in feminism, democracy and Kurdish issues. During her time in prison, her writings have been collected and published in English by Blue Crane Books, Massachusetts, USA, under the title Writings from Prison.
Other details: first Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish parliament. In 1995, Zana won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. In July 2001 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that her trial had been unfair. Turkey has recently adopted a law which states that any trial found unfair by the European Court should be subjected to judicial review; however, Zana’s trial is not eligible as the law is not retroactive. Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience.
Honorary Member: USA West and English PEN
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/honorarymembers/turkey/leylazana/