Rawej Sterk TV, Interview with Melanie Gingell, English

you are warmly welcome to the program to ravish program so I’m going to ask you questions in English you answer me in English but you should wait for my translation into Kurdish so my first question to you is when did you come across when you come into contact with the Kurds and Kurdish question my first contact with the Kurdish issue in Turkey was when I started conducting trial observations for the bar Human Rights Committee the bar of England and Wales Human Rights Committee and that was back in 2012 I was invited to go and observe this trial 47 lawyers 47 Kurdish lawyers had been arrested in Istanbul and held in custody there was a linking factor between these 47 lawyers and that was that each of them had represented Abdullah Ocalan at some point in their professional career either in domestic proceedings or in front of the European Court of Human Rights so that was the linking factor they hadn’t all acted for him at the same time or in the same case but nevertheless they had at some point acted for him and so before you decided or your chambers decided to send you did you have any background information where indicated the situation of Kurdish people in general in Turkey no really not this was my very first experience of the Kurdish issue and it was a very eye-opening introduction to the issue I think we were all very shocked by what we found when we got there on the first occasion it was very difficult to understand how an apparently very functioning modern legal system could be harnessed by the the politics of the situation it seemed to us that this was a very political trial and really had very little to do with justice could you please describe for me how was the first I mean the first trip the first approach to the court the first one if you can remember the first time I went I think was the second hearing in in this trial this is a series of one day hearings that have been carrying on yeah since the very end of 2011 beginning of 2012 and these trials take place are not in Istanbul but outside Istanbul in the prison complex of ATSA livery delivery yes and the way as you know there’s a huge prison and attached to this prison is a very huge courtroom and that’s the first question that that really comes to mind is why was why was it thought necessary to build a courtroom of that magnitude clearly it was how big is it it’s it’s right um it’s 200 hundred metres long it’s clearly designed for a mass trimestre mass defendants and you know on this occasion there were 47 defendants 47 lawyers each represented by several lawyers themselves plus a huge international delegation of observers plus all the relations friends family of the defendants all on the first occasion packed into a very small room but in later hearings we were moved into this enormous so if we stay in the first hearing could you please explain and describe the situation I mean you said that there were international observers were other observers from other countries as well yes they were observers from many European countries from not only the UK but also France and Germany and Greece and I think also Holland so there was a sizeable international delegation this was an issue that was taken very seriously and part of the reason that it was taken so seriously was because approximately a year before I first went the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of lawyers and judges had visited turkey noticeably Gabriela knaul yeah and she had written a very critical report of what she’d found on her visit and one of the things she highlighted was that the Turkish legal system was being used increasingly against its own lawyers and

she felt that this was was it because that so many lawyers were arrested or what yes you she was very concerned that so many lawyers particularly Kurdish lawyers were being arrested and clearly there’s something very awry if the legal system is dealing with so many of its own professionals and she felt that one of the things she noted was that the Terrorism laws are very broadly framed very broadly defined and that it was possible to really include a very broad section society within that definition by that she meant the Terrorism laws in Europe or just in Turkey in Turkey just in Turkey these laws in Turkey she was very critical of the way that these laws had been framed very broad could encompass a wide range of behaviors behaviors that were not on the face of it at all to do with terrorism and therefore they could be misused what was your first impression of the defendants in the first hearing how was what did they say in the first hearing my first impression of these lawyers was here was a group of professional people you know people very like myself very like my colleagues back in London who found themselves being charged with terrorism related offenses simply for carrying out their professional duties these are young sort of young lawyers professional people they have young families in Istanbul some of them had returned from overseas to face these charges and despite this despite these strong community ties these people had been kept in custody and clearly on the face of it there’s no reason for people professional people with strong community ties who voluntarily come to the court to be kept in custody so I think they were very shocked and very traumatized by this experience having you know they’ve been taken from their families some of them were very violently arrested so I think they were very traumatized and we were quite shocked by what we saw so these hearings continue so you have been only known in five hearings you okay and then now this situation is that the people are the world they can them to something extraordinarily this trial continues you know despite the fact these people were arrested in November 2011 here we are in 2014 in this trial still continues they’re still has been no resolution and I think the reality is that this trial is about containing people that the state sees as Kurdish activists the lawyers themselves when I had an opportunity to speak to some of them characterized themselves as hostages within a political process rather than as defendants within a trial process and it’s widely accepted really that the resolution to this matter is going to be is going to come from the wider political situation particularly from the peace process what about the indictment I mean the what the judge set or the prosecutor said in the court members no I mean what you heard yourself in the in the court while you were in the court what did the prosecutor said for instance the prosecutor said that these lawyers had they had seen or chillin and rather than taking instructions from ah chillin as part of a legal defense of him in fact these legal conferences were an opportunity for Archelon to spread his message or spread his instructions give his instructions to these lawyers to pass on to people in a need illegal organization who would then carry out terrorist offences know so that the prosecution case was in summary that the lawyers were used being used as knowingly as a means of communication between Abdullah Ocalan and people who were going to carry out terrorists and offenses and what was your impression from this accusation as baster as a lure well the evidence was very interesting the first point about the evidence is that much of it was illegally obtained through illegal tapping of phones and taking people’s private computers from their homes and all of that is in contravention of domestic law so the first point is a lot of this information was illegally obtained and the second point is that on the face of it on the face of these communications no offences were revealed

the the evidence that i saw amounted really to quite normal conversations between lawyer and client between lawyers and their friends their family and so on the face of it there was nothing to suggest that any crimes had been committed so the prosecute the prosecution case had taken these normal conversations and twisted them and interpreted them in a certain way and said that this was some sort of code so you can see that there’s quite a leap between what we can see what is evident and what the prosecution has made of it and in the court when they were dealing with this evidence the defence barristers were making very long and very detailed applications to exclude parts of these evidence parts parts of the evidence and to challenge parts of the evidence but and then the judge would listen he would really ask no questions he would just listen silently and at the end of the submission turned to the prosecutor asked the prosecutor what his view was and the prosecutor would say I asked you to reject these applications full stop so the prosecution submissions were extremely brief and after hearing this the judge would say yes I dismiss all these applications so really there was there was no consideration of the defense case it was clearly that it would appear that the judge and the prosecutor were very much you know reading from the same script as it were they they can were of the same mind apparently i think it was in one of these here that the defendants they asked to be allowed to speak in their own language in Kurdish what was the reaction of the court of that yes the application to be allowed to conduct the defense in their own land called defense here in the Kurdish language was a recurring theme throughout the hearings it was a little time thinking up it was very important to these defendants for obvious reasons but after I think three hearings in February I think 2012 know the law was changed and that it was allowed it was suddenly allowed for Kurdish defendants to defend themselves in their own language and that was quite a momentous occasion so we witnessed this the first occasion on which Kurdish was spoken officially in in a Turkish court and that was quite a moving moment renew and then later they were released on bail in in the first place the vast majority of these lawyers were as I said at the beginning were kept in custody but no reasons we’re ever given you which is yet another breach of domestic Turkish law you know all legal decisions should be backed up by fully reasoned judgments and that provides it a check and balance against arbitrary decisions and it gives you an opportunity to understand why that decision has been made and then an opportunity to challenge it if necessary but no reasons were ever given and as the trial continued as that as we went through the hearings at each hearing a small group of these defendants were released maybe five or six on each occasion and again no reasons were given for for the releases so it was sort of it appeared to be fairly random as to which which people were going to be released it wasn’t known in advance which ones were going to be released so it’s very stressful very traumatic for these people yes as if you are now after the they have been released on bail did you have any opportunity to meet any of these lawyers or speak to them yes finally at the last hearing the last remaining lawyers were released on on bail so now everybody has been released finally so that’s what some small small victory in this case at various stages I’ve had the opportunity to speak directly to defendants and there’s been very illuminating they category have characterized themselves really as hostages within the political process within as i said this wider political process and you know of course that these so-called KCK trials are much much broader much wider than simply this trial and that thousands of Kurdish activists are facing charges within this kind of KCK process and it would appear that nothing is going to be resolved

really until the Kurdish question is resolved and it was everybody was very hopeful after the new round of peace talks began that something could be accomplished for them and certainly at various stages the law has been amended the law on freedom of expression was amended its at one stage within the trial which enabled certain of the KCK defendants to be released but not these not these defendants because these defendants are charged as I said with membership of an illegal organization so sadly they’re still very much facing charges exposed I mean it could be possible that they will be rearrested again the the other KCK defendants yes I mean this group that you had been in the trials well they’re still facing justice yeah if I suppose if they decide at some point that it suits them maybe that bail can be revoked so you saw that there is a direct connection between these sort of trials and DePriest process in general this practice process which it’s called peace process generally speaking between the Turkish state and the Kurdish movement in northern Kurdistan what do you think yourself about the peace process or the negotiation between two I mean protagonists that you have you have in Turkey as a lawyer as opposed to an expert on this particular political situation I think there are various observations that I can make the first one would be that there’s no equality of arms in this process how can you really have a genuine negotiation around peace when one side is detained know particularly in the conditions in which he has been detained he’s been in solitary confinement for for a very long time and that’s obviously very traumatizing situation to be in so the first point is there there’s no equality and really if you’re going to have genuine meaningful negotiations around peace the the parties need to be on an equal footing he needs to be released in order to come to the table on a proper basis because many times my one makes some comparison with the situation for instance in South Africa when there was negotiations between the upper word apartheid regime and KNC and Mandela so I think the real negotiations started when Mandela was released from prison yes I think I think you’re right there are a lot of parallels between the situation in Turkey with a chillin and the the process between Mandela and the apartheid regime and there are some very obvious comparisons firstly both of them work detainees on an island sort of kept away from the mainland but I Mandela I think initiated the negotiations from prison but it was only as you say after he was released that real meaningful negotiations could begin and that’s clearly you know if we’re going to make the same progress as was made in that scenario that that’s the first step that needs to be done some of the observers also say that in order that real and genuine negotiations could start is that that the pkk must be removed from the list of terrorist organizations in Turkey as you know there are also in some European countries in the United States this list is existing now do you think that it’s a really precondition for real negotiations yes I mean I think again for meaningful negotiations take place how can a government negotiate with an illegal organization it just doesn’t make any sense if the parties have reached this stage where they’re prepared to talk and we know that they have been now it’s out in the open that they are talking and they are doing exactly what the defendants in this trial we’re doing they are talking to learn which is another reason why perhaps these lawyers should be released from all charges I think a lot of progress has been made on both sides about how this whole process needs to go forward clearly there’s a will on both sides for something for progress to be made and are chillin himself has made various given various guarantees various offers about there being no more violence and that the focus now is on not on autonomy autonomy but on federalism and that’s something that by

autonomy human independent and dependent yes okay yes with the emphasis now from the car decide is on having a federal or Confederate position and it’s no longer sort of a movement for independence so clearly it’s part of the same question to do with or chill and himself for there to be meaning negotiations there needs to be equality between the two sides and if one side is considered to be illegal is one of the proscribed organisation list how can that really go ahead go forward in any meaningful way we know that the situation is complicated by what’s happening across the border in Syria now and we know also that the Syrian Kurds are fighting the cuckoo song raaz our fighting a very sustained defense in in raja bah-bah-bah nice ms Romani and it’s very controversial now how can Western forces how can the American forces support the forces in kobani if they are affiliated or associated with a proscribed organisation so it’s causing all sorts of problems not only in Turkey but in the wider region that this prescription remains and it seems to me that it’s time for that to be looked at again so in by saying so there are some political scientists that they say that really to look at the questions from a just a legal prospective does not work all the time I mean because the politics in reality there are some times that this sort of let’s say lows and things could be trampled upon depending on the balance of power and in the case of for instance there that in reality the international let’s say Coalition is just working with the Kurds both I mean especially in the raw Java so do you also agree with this interpretation of political scientists the only answer to these sort of questions there does need to be political movement political acceptance of change of this magnitude really the law is obviously a very can be a very helpful tool in time to to get change but as we’ve seen legal systems in it as we saw in relation to this trial of the lawyers legal systems can be harnessed by political forces and used against justice really and so law is only as good as the people applying it and implementing engine so you can have on paper the best laws in the world but if the judges and the politicians behind the judges are not committed to the judges being independent to there being a real justice process those laws are going to be abused and and used for the wrong purposes now if we go back to this situation of mr. Raja lon as you may know there is an international initiative it’s called international initiative for Pierre for truth fine deferred in the truth investigation the same as a trailer there was in South Africa which are many well-known international personalities are involved in that like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and through the other people who are working in elders group that is very acting there do you think that for instance your colleagues and you I mean generally speaking the barristers the lawyers in Britain can be more active in this case I’m aware that this there is this initiative which seems like a very constructive way forward and clearly if you have people like Desmond Tutu involved in it you have people with real experience of of seeing this sort of process through to a good and meaningful resolution and now you do have international lawyers involved in the kind of the wider issues people who’ve been observing trial and more widely observing other trials across Turkey so there’s there’s a lot of international legal concern and so if there was a way that international lawyers could be part of any Commission

truth and justice commission I think that would be that would be excellent because you could bring in all the expertise from other countries the experience and really bring it to bear on this question yeah so I know that you had also a a fact-finding mission to Southern Kurdistan and I think you stayed some time there and especially you looked at these treatment of the journalists and freedom of speech you can also elaborate and describe a little about your trip there yes in September of this year I visited the Kurdish regional government area in Iraq I went there on behalf of an NGO an independent NGO the Gulf Center for Human Rights and I was looking species called Center for Human Rights is active in de Guerre in the Gulf region generally but also in Iraq and also Yemen and Iran or so across that region and one of the focuses of this organization is not only support of human rights defenders but also a particular focus on freedom of expression yes and that’s what i was looking at on this occasion was to what extent is freedom of expression restricted in the KRG area our independent journalists free to write what they like to what extent do government or non-government actors seek to to restrict it and the first thing that I think that I noticed was that the press overall is flourishing and that writers are flourishing in that area seems to be a hugely literary culture there and there are so many different newspapers so many different me outlets and that gives you great cause for optimism and clearly in that region in in terms of the wider Iraq is seen as a safe haven for people who are fleeing some of the chaos that’s occurring sort of in in Iraq more widely so there was a lots of cause for optimism about what I found there but nevertheless having said that there are also very serious concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression and there have in fact been some assassinations of journalists who’ve crossed what are termed the red lines and they’re very clearly anybody who works in that field in that region is very aware of where the red lines are sort of self-imposed lines that they will not cross for example one cannot discuss the family of the leading politicians in the country that is a very dangerous thing to do and it’s feared that for example Tsar dashed Osman a young journalist a young student who wrote a poem that did mention the family of one of these political families was later assassinated and the fear is that this was a direct correlation to this poem that he’d written so these red lines are very young mayor well whom did you meet where did you get your information from I met the editors of various independent newspapers including a when a I met the directors of nrt television station yeah I met people from have to pause here to try and remember what it’s called there’s an organization sorry defending what’s defending the right of journalists or what journalist yeah sourced yes and then and so I met independent journalists I met people from civil society organizations and I met as I say people from nrt television when a press but you didn’t come into contact with the people for instance the let’s say Foreign Affairs Department of the KRG wouldn’t I know you didn’t want to or you I didn’t have an opportunity on this occasion although I would very much like to have that opportunity and I’d be I welcome their comments on so

did you have you have you reached have you written any report about this trip publish something canadia told you it’s not yet published it is about to be published in the next few weeks so possibly by the time this program goes out it will be published may be about the same time but yes it the the strong feeling was that the main political parties their reach extends too far into the world of the press it was felt that the influence of these political parties is is very strong it’s very difficult to be truly independent the sort of categories of the press was explained to me in these terms that you have the first category it’s a very overtly political media who do follow a party political line clearly it’s obvious that that’s what they’re doing and they don’t seek to hide that then the second category is what is termed the shadow media who portray themselves as independent but are really under the influence of one or other of the political parties but it’s not overt and then thirdly the smallest group are the truly independent journalists who bravely in plow their own furrow who have their own voice and on occasions do that across these red lines and will broach the subject particular of corruption which is also a significant issue in in the region yeah but taking into account that because the situation is very chaotic do you think that your observations in what way it can have any kind of positive impact to change the things to the better the aim and objective of a mission like that is to to give support to the people who are bravely struggling to get an independent voice heard so the idea is that you raise their profile you give them a voice you give them the support of international organizations in the hope that that they don’t feel alone and in the hope that this does give them a feeling of solidarity and a feeling that what they’re doing is important and is recognized by their colleagues or more widely outside the KRG okay now we have not too much time left but I would like you to explain a bit about your golf committee as well can you just listen say the Gulf sent to the Gulf scientist the way that you are working there well I’m I’m on the board of the Gulf center of human right on the advisory board so as a lawyer as an independent lawyer I have been asked to be on the board so I have a role in advising the organization as I say it’s an independent organization it’s not funded by any government and it seeks to support human rights defenders primarily that’s the primary role of it so we would issue appeals if somebody was arbitrarily detained for example for their political activities or their human rights activities we would issue an appeal we would explain what’s happened to them try and establish the objective facts about what’s happened to them publish it give it some international profile we’d also seek to utilize the mechanisms of the United Nations to assist to to talk to Special Rapporteurs for example to try and get information to the Special Rapporteurs to enable them to play a role in the country maybe to organize the country visit recently the Special Rapporteur for freedom of assembly visited Oman following a long kind of history of problems in that country and he visited just a couple of months ago and wrote a very critical initial report about the the circumstances that he found there okay thank you very much money thank you for your time thank you very much you you