01/04/2015 - 00:00
Terrorism Laws and the Criminalisation and Targeting of Silan Ozcelik and MP Nicole Gohlke

1 April 2015

Until the UN-US-UK-EU linked 'terrorism lists' that criminalise the PKK are effectively challenged and abolished, Kurdish diasporic communities as well as those extending support to such communities and their self-determination and anti-genocidal struggles - even inclusive of German MP's - will continue to be targeted and/or criminalised. The targeting by police of a Kurdish protester as she peacefully protested ISIS' injustices against Kurds and 'Others' outside the UK Houses of Parliament last autumn (see chilling footage at: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=582_1411604706); Shilan (Silhan) Ozcelik'sarrest in March 2015; the 'targeting operation' delaying the return of Konstandinos Erik Scurfield Kemal'sbody in the same month in the UK and the targeting of MP Nicole Gohlke in Germany have all occurred as a result of 'blacklisting' and out-of-control, publicly unaccountable 'anti-terror' regimes.

As the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) - in its response to the UK government's 'Prevent Duty Guidance: a consultation' - noted with alarm at the end of January this year:

Along with the 'Prevent' programme, now being made statutory, relevant UK legislation rests on the Terrorism Act 2000.  According to its definition, terrorism encompasses simply ‘the threat of action designed to influence the government’ in ways involving ‘serious damage to a property’.  With this broad, vague definition, anti-terror powers have been used to persecute those who oppose UK foreign policy and/or support liberation movements. 

With particular relevance to our campaign’s remit, the above statutory definition was the UK’s basis for banning several national liberation organisations [inclusive of the PKK] as terrorist, for persecuting migrant and Muslim communities, and for criminalising speech acts (which were not prosecutable as hate speech). In such ways, the ‘anti-terror’ agenda supports oppressive regimes allied with the UK – f or example, Turkey ... More recently, these powers have been used against UK Kurds suspected of joining the anti-ISIS resistance in Syria.

On 13th March 2015, Roj Women's Association, the Kurdish Youth Assembly, the Kurdish People's Assembly, CAMPACC, the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), MAFDAD (the Kurdish Lawyers Association), the Kurdish Community Centre, Roj Women's Assembly, alongside Highbury East Councillor Aysegul Erdogan, issued the following statement:

The Kurdish community and supporters of the Kurdish struggle are incensed at the arrest and imprisonment of 18 year old Shilan (Silhan) Ozcelik, who is accused of wanting to join the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS).The UK government in its steadfastness to appease the Turkish state - who is continuing to support ISIS and withhold support from the Kurdish armed movement, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) - has made clear whose side the government is on.

The recent killing of the heroic Konstandinos Erik Scurfield (Kemal) in the battle against ISIS in Rojava (Northern Syria), has garnered a very positive approach from the British media and public. The UK government has been afraid of this support for the Kurdish struggle ... This is why they have delayed and not supported the [immediate] repatriation of Konstandinos Erik Scurfield and criminalised the struggle he has sacrificed his life for.The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which is on the terror list in the UK, EU and USA was added to this list in 2002 during a 5 year unilateral ceasefire, at the behest of Turkey ... This listing is evidently political and to do with the economic and political ties between the Turkish and British states. Using this listing, the UK government has been criminalising the Kurds for at least 13 years …

The case of Shilan Ozcelik is the most recent chapter of this story and the Kurdish community are now concerned that the UK government will … once again criminalise the community who have been the biggest supporters of the international fight against ISIS terror and fascism … It seems that the UK government is blocking and trying to prevent any support from going to Rojava and Sinjar, thus strengthening ISIS’ resolve and the unofficial embargo on Rojava and the resistance there.

In it's call to 'Drop the terrorism charges against Silan Ozcelik', the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, on the same day,  expressed its concern that she had:

been remanded for allegedly trying to join the Kurdish resistance against ISIS in northern Syria ... Silan was charged with ‘engaging in conduct in preparation to for giving an effect to an intention to commit acts of terrorism’ under section 5 (10) (a) of the Terrorism Act 2006 and remanded to Holloway prison to await trial on the 1st April. We condemn the arrest as a blatant example of political and selective criminalisation of the Kurdish community at large ...

We emphatically reject this labelling of the PKK, which we believe confuses the Kurdish people’s legitimate struggle for self-determination with terrorism and has the effect of criminalising anyone in our community who is part of peaceful political activity … The arrest comes at a time when the Kurdish struggle has been garnering unprecedented international support for their recent armed struggle against ISIS. There, the PKK’s affiliated forces, the YPG and YPJ, have received praise from activists and senior politicians alike for their incredible efforts fighting back ISIS from Kobane and parts of northern Syria and Iraq.

Given this context, the arrest of a young Kurdish woman for allegedly attempting to join the YPJ seems more than a little contradictory. The YPG and YPJ, who had been in a tacit alliance with US and British forces in the struggle for Kobane, are not listed on any terrorist list. We call for Silan’s immediate release, and for the PKK to be removed from the terrorism list once and for all.

Mark Campbell, a Kurdish human rights campaigner, has described the case against Ozcelik as “disgraceful … I almost have no words for how angry I feel … These charges should be dropped immediately and this girl should be released”. As reported in The Independent: “Mr Campbell claimed the prosecution 'clearly seems to be linked' to the news ... that former Royal Marine Konstandinos Erik Scurfield … was the first Briton to have been killed fighting against Isis in Syria. 'It’s a political thing from the British Government because they are concerned that more British people are expressing support for the Kurds’ fight against Isis, because they don’t want to upset their [fellow] Nato member Turkey', Mr Campbell said. 'That is absolutely disgraceful and disgusting'”.

For Campbell: “It is seemingly becoming more clear that the UK Government is attempting to criminalise anyone who wants to fight ISIS while doing nothing to support the Kurds fight against ISIS in Syria. When you look more closely at the UK government's track record on the fight against ISIS in Syria, it is shockingly shameful. The UK Defence Committee recently produced a report on the 'Fight Against ISIS in Syria and Iraq', for example with not one mention of the YPG's heroic battle against ISIS for the last three years culminating in the first defeat inflicted upon ISIS's seemingly unstoppable advance over the Middle East. There was no mention despite top UK barrister Margaret Owen submitting a detailed report on the YPG/YPJ's heroic resistance against ISIS. Then, there was the first UK international volunteer to die in battle against ISIS, Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, the UK Government's position on the repatriation of his body has been equally shameful, in my view. And now this … I'm frankly still in shock [over] … the details of her jailing”.

Whilst criminalisation of this kind is evident in the UK, in fellow NATO and EU member state Germany, in Göttingen in mid-October 2014, as The Local reported, “police investigated Kurdish protesters for flying the flag of the PKK … To this day, simply displaying a PKK symbol at a political demonstration is enough to provoke German police to attack and disperse it. There have been 4,500 legal proceedings related to PKK activities since 2004 alone. Since 1996, more than 100 PKK functionaries have been penalised, some sentenced to prison … The German state banned the PKK in 1993 with the intention of assisting Turkey against one of its strongest opponents … The campaign to ban the PKK [has] ... amounted to a de facto ban on political activity for one of Germany’s largest immigrant communities”.

A similarly incredible court case is set to take place in Germany after it was confirmed that the Munich Prosecutor has moved to file a lawsuit against Nicole Gohlke MP.  She lost her parliamentary immunity in October 2014 after waving a PKK flag at a Munich demonstration. “That protest”, reported journalist Deniz Serinci, “was in support of Kobane, the Kurdish town in Syria where PKK-affiliated fighters have been resisting an Islamic State (ISIS) takeover for some two months … 'The Kurdish people have fought for freedom, democracy and human rights under this flag', she had said”. Ten MP's from the Die Linke party, in protest at her targeting and the ongoing criminalisation of the PKK in Germany, have not only unfurled the PKK flag inside the German parliament but have stated that: “Instead of lifting Nicole Gohlke’s immunity, we urge the federal government to remove the ban on the PKK”.

As lawyers from the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights (ELDH) noted in October 2014, as a consequence of these unjust 'terrorism' listing regimes:

Thousands of Kurds in Turkey and the member states of the EU have been prosecuted. Associated organisations or political parties and Kurdish Newspapers have been banned, TV stations are closed. The rights of countless Kurds and political supporters to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press have been violated by these measures.

Provisions of the law concerning aliens, up to provisions on deportation of aliens, have been used. The banning of the PKK not only puts into question the right of residence of ten thousands of Kurds. but it also leads to their criminalisation.

Democratic and progressive lawyers all over the world have repeatedly protested against the criminalization of so many Kurds and have demanded the removal of the PKK from the list of terrorist organisations of the European Union and the lifting of the ban on political activities. The PKK itself has made several attempts – of which only some were successful – to appeal against prosecutions, which they considered to be unlawful, in Germany and other European countries. One of the most recent, dated 2nd May 2014, was the legal action at the Court of the European Union, on behalf of the Executive Committee of PKK, taken against the Council of the European Union. Its objective was to remove the PKK from the EU list of terrorist organisations.

Furthermore the list of terrorist organisations has met with general legal concerns, amongst others from the former President of the German Constitutional Court, Hans-Jürgen Papier, and from the former Special Rapporteur of the Council of Europe, Dick Marty … The listing takes place in a non-transparent procedure which does not allow the persons or organizations concerned appropriate legal means of defence, such as inspection of files or the right to be heard …

High ranking politicians of the governing coalition in Germany as well of the opposition parties have to acknowledge that certain promising results in the battle against the advance of the so called “Islamic State” (IS) in Iraq and in the self-governed Region in Western Kurdistan/Northern Syria (Rojava), are the result of the unprecedented and courageous battle of the PKK and its allied forces. Fewer politicians than ever are maintaining their old stereotypes when assessing PKK … The [current] circumstances demand a legal reassessment of PKK by the German government, by the governments of other European countries, as well as by the European Union.

Desmond Fernandes is a member of the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) and the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign. He was a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and Genocide Studies at De Montfort University (UK) and is the author of The Kurdish and Armenian Genocides: From Censorship and Denial to Recognition? (Apec: Stockholm, 2007; Peri, Istanbul, 2013), The Struggle for Kurdish Language Rights in Turkey (Peace in Kurdistan, London, 2011), Surveillance, Targeting and the Criminalisation of Kurds in the UK and USA(Apec Press: Stockholm, 2015 - forthcoming) and co-author of The Targeting of ‘Minority Others’ in Pakistan (BPCA: London, 2013) and The Education System in Pakistan: Discrimination and the Targeting of the ‘Other’ (BPCA, London, 2014). His articles have appeared in a number of journals and magazines, including Genocide Studies and Prevention (the official journal of the International Association of Genocide Scholars); Kurdistan Aktuell, L’Appel du Kurdistan, Armenian Forum, the Thailand Environment Institute Journal, the International Journal of the Sociology of Language; Peace News; Law, Social Justice and Global Development and Variant: Cross Currents in Culture.

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