Monday, May 24, 2010

Turkey jails Children for Supporting Anti-Government Protests

This morning, while watching the BBC, I was outraged by the story of Berivan, a 15-year-old Kurdish girl jailed for 8 years in a high security prison in Turkey - on charges of supporting a terrorist organization. Of course, the charge - "supporting a terrorist organization" caught my attention and sent me digging deep into the story. I wanted to find out how the little girl was supporting a terrorist organization. Was the minor a terrorist recruit? Did the 15-year-old attempt to blow up an aircraft or a public building in Turkey? Further reading led me to even more outrageous stories - which confirm the fact that the government of Turkey jails Kurdish children for supporting anti-government protests in south-east Turkey.

According to the BBC, there are currently more than 340 Kurdish children behind bars in Turkey, on charges of supporting a terrorist group.

In April 2010, the Turkish High court sentenced 15 Kurdish children for throwing stones at police officers and for participating in anti-government protests - in support of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - an organisation listed as a terrorist group.

Founded in the 1970's - the goal of the PKK is to secure the cultural and political rights of the Kurdish population - an ethnic minority group in Turkey, as well as to create an independent Kurdish state. It is worth mentioning that the organization has been involved in an armed struggle against the government and it is currently outlawed in Turkey

Does the participation of minors in anti-government protests and "chanting illegal slogans" in support of the PKK, justify "exceptionally harsh" anti-terror law that jeopardize the welfare of children?

Talking to the BBC, a Kurdish child said: "They're always unfair to us; they don't want us to speak our own language - we want to speak our own language and use our own flag. We don't want to be ruled by others".

Turkey is party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and has a legal obligation under international law to protect the rights of children. Mindful of this obligation - why is the government of Turkey unwilling to amend such a flawed law that puts children ( from a minority ethnic group ) in jail? Why are children held in high security prisons - together with hardened PKK militants?

If you ask me - Turkey should amend the harsh anti-terrorist law that jails children for supporting anti-government demonstrations. While it true that the PKK is outlawed for threatening the "indivisible unity" of the Turkish Republic - it is also true that Kurdish children held in high security jails are not PKK militants and do not pose any real threat to the national security of Turkey. The children are simply victims of the long-standing conflict between the government of Turkey and the PKK.

The European Union (EU) and the international community should mount pressure on Turkey to quickly end the shameful practice of throwing children into adult high security jails - in the name of fighting Terrorism.

Help sign a petition to push for the release of Berivan and all Kurdish children in Turkish jails, here.

*Photo from PressTv: Berivan, a 15-year-old Kurdish girl who is jailed in January 2010 for throwing stones at police officers and chanting illegal slogans.

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