Making the biggest impact has been the European Union – which Turkey hopes to join in the not-too distant future.

 

The EU commissioner in charge of the bloc’s expansion process, Guenter Verheugen, has said the verdict casts a shadow over the implementation of political reforms in Turkey.

 

"The commission strongly deplores today's verdict," Verheugen said after the decision was handed down on Wednesday. The statement has left many wondering whether this case has damaged the country’s EU prospects.

 

Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak have been in jail since 1994, when their parliamentary immunity was lifted and they were charged with having links to the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

 

Sentence

 

They were sentenced to 15 years in jail in March 1995, at the height of fighting between the Turkish army and the PKK.

All were members of parliament for the pro-Kurdish – and since banned - Democratic Party (DEP).

 

Verheugen(3R) upset with Turkish
court decision

Their conviction, the subsequent 12 appeals, and the latest retrial have become a major stumbling block to Turkey being granted a date to begin EU accession talks in December this year. 

The retrial had been ordered by the European Court of Human Rights after it found Turkey had denied justice to the four.

 

"The problem with the Leyla Zana case is that Turkey’s new laws to harmonise with the European Union are just symbolic," Eren Keskin, lawyer and deputy chairwoman of Turkey’s Human Rights Association told Aljazeera.Net.

 

The second trial was as unfair as the first, Keskin said.

 

Part of the original prosecution case against Zana - who once won the EU’s Sakharov human rights prize - and her colleagues was their use of the Kurdish language during a swearing-in ceremony at parliament.

 

However, EU harmonisation laws have now legalised the use of Kurdish in Turkey.

 

Zana and her colleagues were also prosecuted for allegedly wearing clothing in the colours associated with the Kurdish independence movement: red, green, and yellow. 

Release

 

Though the defendants’ sentence was confirmed by the Ankara State Security Court, all four are due to be released in 2005, having already served 10 years in prison. 

 

According to many rights activists, the latest decision also shows how politics still play a part in Turkey’s judicial system - and how deep the divisions in Turkish society over Kurdish rights still are.

 

The PKK fought the Turkish army
in March 1995

"The DEP deputies were politicians who had not supported violence,” Keskin says. “Where there was no firm evidence they were faced with an unfair trial and the second ruling is no different from the first."

 

"People in the region are tired of war, of violence and they want the peace of normality," she said. "This decision will send a message for the continuation of violence."

 

The France-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) also slammed the decision, and reminded Turkey that a country that held political prisoners could not hope to become a member of the EU. 

 

"The FIDH stresses the need for Turkey to abide by the Copenhagen criteria set out by the European Commission for membership negotiations to start," the group said in a statement issued late on Wednesday.

 

Message

 

This was a message also hammered home by Commissioner Verheugen’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Filori, who said it was not possible for a country to enter into membership discussions with the EU while it held political prisoners. 

 

There has already been strong criticism of the court’s latest ruling from the Switzerland-based International Commission of Jurists.

 

"This retrial process has revealed the sorrowful situation of Turkish jurists"

Yusuf Alatas,
lawyer for the jailed deputies

"The fundamental right to a fair trial was not respected," it said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

 

One of the lawyers defending the former DEP deputies was also critical of the ruling.

 

"It was no surprise," said Yusuf Alatas. "The court reconfirmed its previous ruling that showed there is no independence in the judicial system."

 

Alatas said the defence team had laboured in vain for 13 months, the time taken for the retrial. The defence would appeal against the court’s ruling, he said. 

 

The European Commission is due to hand down a crucial report on Turkey’s progress towards meeting EU’s membership criteria in October.

 

The bloc itself is to decide at its December summit whether to specify a date for the opening of accession talks.

 

In the context of these two moves, Europe looks further away than ever. 

 

"This retrial process has revealed the sorrowful situation of Turkish jurists. We did not struggle for freedom of only four people, we struggled for the democratisation of Turkey," Alatas said.