Children Crowded Jails Under Turkey's Anti-Terrorism Laws
The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. It reflects a new vision of the child.
It is unclear when President Obama visits Ankara, Turkey later this month, that he will have any contact with Turkey's human rights activists from Bianet, Human Rights Association Adana (IHD), and Antenna-TR organizations. Turkey is a G20 member.
These activists hope the United States will address an ongoing issue that the Turkish authority has been excessively vigorous in enforcing its anti-terrorism laws, which included arresting and incarcerating children from the age of 13 to18 years old. Although the 2006 Anti-Terrorism Law amendment allowed the Turkish court to charge teenagers aged 15 to 18 years old as adults.
Turkey’s top court of appeals ruled last year that everyone who follows a PKK call to take part in a demonstration can be charged with PKK membership. The ruling also applied to juveniles.
A change to Turkey’s anti-terrorism law in 2006 made it possible to try juveniles accused of PKK activities in criminal high courts instead of in juvenile courts.
According to the Human Rights Association Adana (IHD), Turkey has a history of targeting its youngest population starting with public punishment such as physically breaking their arms to prosecution and incarceration of children up to 20 years, dependent on the severity of the charges made the state.
Freemuse and Antenna-TR reported that 15 members of the children's choir were interrogated and subsequently, charged by the prosecutors for spreading separatist propaganda under Article 7/2 of the Turkish Counter Terrorism Law.
The children were singing an old Kurdish song during their participation in the World Music Festival in San Francisco in Oct. 2007. The children whose ages ranged from 12 to 16 years old were indicted in two separate trials in 2008, on Feb.18 and Apr. 3. Three children are currently serving their 5-year sentences.
Between 2006-2007, Turkey have prosecuted 1,572 children, 174 have been found guilty under the Counter-Terrorism Law. Currently, there is an estimate of 198 children between the ages of 13 to 17 who are serving their sentences, according to Antenna-TR and Bianet.
Minister of Justice Mehmet Ali Sahin revealed that 724 children were detained in 2006 and 2007 for offenses related to the Counter Terrorism Law.
Of these, 319 were tried in courts in Diyarbakır, the focus of Kurdish unrest in Southeastern Turkey.
Another 422 children were tried under Article 220 of the Penal Code during the same period, which penalizes "organizing to commit crime." Another 413 children were accused of "membership of armed organizations", as defined in Article 314 of the Penal Code.
“It is a shame,” said Mr. Ethem Acikalin, the head of the Adana section of the Human Rights Association (IHD), a Turkish human rights group. “Children are being sentenced as a means of deterrence, but it is against human rights. Putting children into prison should only be a last resort.”
According to a report by Mr Acikalin’s rights organization, 16 juveniles between 14 and 17 years of age were sentenced to a total of more than 37 years in prison last year in Adana alone for PKK membership and spreading PKK propaganda. “We are of the opinion that it is impossible to know an organization and its aims at this age and to commit those crimes under orders of an organization. The treatments and rulings on children are incompatible with Turkey's obligations arising from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Turkish Constitution and the Law on the Protection of Children."
In Oct. 2008, the Human Rights Association Adana (IHD) branch sent a letter to the Ministries of Justice and Interior Affairs, Human Rights Committee in the Turkish Grand National Assembly to request for an immediate halt to numerous cruel practices including breaking children's arms in public for being rowdy.
Police practices, which break the arms of children and other brutal violence should be given up. We ask for justice for the children, who are at the age of primary and secondary schools periods and arrested in Diyarbakir and Adana. The number of the arrested children is about 24 in Diyarbakir and about 22 in Adana. The police's practices of beating children in public and being arrested by judiciary cannot be a practice of democratic state of law. We ask for justice especially for the children.
The Child Rights Information Network reported that six young teens, all around the age of 15, are facing up to 23 years in prison for participating in the street demonstrations in Diyarbakır in Oct.2008.
Bianet.org reported that those children arrested since Oct.19, 2008 are currently on trials in Diyarbakir for terrorism. Some of the children are as young as 13 years old as they have been charged for being members of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), which is labeled as a terrorist organization by Turkey. The United States also identifies the PKK as a terrorist group.
The lawyer added that four children were arrested for taking part in protests purely on the statements of police officers, without any further proof. According to the expert’s report, one of the other two children was also not filmed on the police video, and it was “doubtful” whether the last child was filmed either.
“They didn’t do anything,” the boys’ lawyer, Vedat Ozkan, said last week. “Police took them from their homes and said they saw them at the demonstration. There was no other evidence in the trial except for the police's testimony. Also, it was dark at the time.”
The boys were accused of membership in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a rebel group that has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey since 1984.
So far, in 2009, there are more than 100 children who have been arrested for attending the commemoration of the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who was captured on Feb.15, 1999. The marbles found in the children's pockets were considered as strong evidence for charges of terrorism by the state as reported by European Network of Ombudspeople for Children (ENOC).
It is an ongoing concern among the Turkish intellectual community that children are being incarcerated for charges as little as carrying marbles to throwing stones to manufactured charges by the police. They have joined force to petition the Turkish government on Mar. 5 to release the children by citing the United Nations Convention of Children's Rights.
A petition signed by 265 Turkish intellectuals initiated the meeting. They urge that courts and the government should respect the universal principles of juvenile justice system.
"These children and families live in poverty and despair," added social worker Ermrah Kırımsoy, citing quotes from face-to-face interviews with several of them.
Speaking on behalf of the families of the concerned children, Mr. Arif Akkaya suggested, "rights and laws are put on hold regarding Kurdish children". He emphasized that those children bear the burden of the ongoing war between the state and Kurdish rebel group PKK. Making reference to PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan's infamous protest at Davos, "Those who shed tears for the children of Gaza blind their eyes to the suffering of Kurdish children," he said.
To date, the Turkish authority has neither responded to the petition nor released any incarcerated children.
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