European Court Hears Ocalan Death Penalty Appeal

The European Court of Human Rights heard Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan’s appeal against the death penalty today as some 15,000 Kurds demonstrated and 4,000 Turks counter-demonstrated outside.

Ocalan’s appeal against the sentence imposed by a Turkish court could add to anger already simmering in Turkey at conditions laid down for European Union membership.

Police said that some 15,000 Kurds had demonstrated in the eastern French city in support of Ocalan, while 4,000 Turks staged a counter demonstration.

Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), was abducted by Turkish agents in Kenya two years ago and flown to Turkey for a trial at which he was condemned to hang for killings during the PKK’s 16-year fight for Kurdish self rule.

His lawyers allege that Turkey violated 21 clauses of the European Convention on Human Rights, starting with Ocalan’s abduction, but said the main issue to be addressed by the panel of seven judges was the death sentence.

“The sole question posed today is whether there is a place for the death penalty in a civilized and democratic Europe,” Sydney Kentridge told the court on Ocalan’s behalf.

Turkey Proclaims Ocalan’s Guilt

Turkey has never ratified the part of European Human Rights Convention that outlaws the death penalty. Lawyers for Ankara told the court that there was no doubt about Ocalan’s guilt.

“We have an accused man who recognizes and accepts responsibility for the crimes he was found guilty of,” said lawyer Francis Szpiner.

Ocalan’s sister and Kurdish activists followed the session from the public gallery as did relatives of Turkish soldiers allegedly killed by PKK guerrillas.

Turkey has not carried out a death sentence since 1984 and has agreed not to execute Ocalan while the case is in progress.

The European Court is expected to rule in days on the case’s admissibility. If it is allowed to proceed, a decision is likely to take several months, and either side can appeal.

‘National Mobilization’ Day

From his cell in an island jail, Ocalan has ordered the PKK to abandon armed struggle and use democratic means to seek cultural rights. Violence has dropped sharply, but tensions over the Strasbourg hearing have run high.

Police arrested around 100 members of the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, Turkey’s only legal Kurdish party, during an anti-death penalty demonstration in eastern Turkey Monday.

Kurdish groups sympathetic to the PKK have declared today a day of “national mobilization” and thousands of protesters from around Europe gathered in Strasbourg to show support.

Police kept them well apart from the demonstration by Turkish nationals and no violence was reported.

The rights court is not part of the European Union, but the hearing could add to Turkey’s anger at European institutions.

Last week, the European Union laid out economic and political changes Ankara must make before it can start EU membership talks. Turkey was incensed that the document said Ankara’s short-term aims should include “strong support” for U.N. efforts to resolve the dispute with Greece over Cyprus.