Written by Student Rights on 1 December 2009 at 5pm

SOAS speech ends up in jail for Kurdish politician

a-leyla-zanaOn the 28th July this year, a Turkish court contravened freedom of speech and academic freedom by imprisoning Kurdish politician Leyla Zana.  Ms. Zana has been handed 15 months imprisonment for speeches given abroad between 2007 and 2008 including a seminar held at SOAS organised by the SOAS Kurdish Society.

She was accused of being guilty of disseminating propaganda in favour of the terrorist organisation Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) however students who attended the seminar reported no use of extreme or terror related rhetoric.  The chair, Professor Mary Davis from London Metropolitan University said that if Zana had done as accused then she would have been deliberately misinterpreted and taken out of context.

Zana herself was the first woman to win a seat in the Turkish parliament in 1991 and subsequently imprisoned for ten years for speaking in native Kurdish and is a two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. In response, SOAS wrote to the Turkish embassy to ask why the charges were being brought against Zana and the academics trade union UCU passed an emergency motion in solidarity with her.

Sadly, this turn of events can clearly be seen to be impinging on a politician's freedom of expression despite there being no evidence for violence or hate mongering from Ms. Zana.  This only serves to limit people having access to her wealth of opinion.