Arrested without reasonable cause

Observations on Turkish Kurds

In December 2002, the New Statesman held a lunch at its offices for Professor Noam Chomsky, then visiting the UK for the Kurdish Human Rights Project. Among the guests was the former Kurdish MP Remzi Kartal. Over the years, many diners at the NS should perhaps have been arrested (cue polite coughing and mention Charles Clarke) and some, such as myself, indeed have. However, Remzi Kartal is the last person one would expect to find imprisoned, as he now is, as a guest of the German authorities.

Like many Kurds, Kartal fled repression not from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but from Turkey. He had been elected alongside other Kurds to the Turkish parliament. They were promptly vilified, detained and attacked. This group included Layla Zana, who was awarded the Sakharov Prize by the EU while in prison. In 1994, Belgium granted Kartal refugee status.

Remzi Kartal is known internationally for his campaigning for a democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey. In 2002, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Turkey and in favour of Kartal and 12 others, under Article 3 of Protocol 1. Turkey was again found to be a torturing nation, and Kartal was paid E50,000 compensation.

So why did the German authorities detain him? Because Turkey asked them to. Turkey has put his name on Interpol's terrorist list, because he has apparently been named by two of the suspects held for the al-Qaeda bomb attack in Istanbul in November 2003. I can say for certain that Kartal is no more involved with al-Qaeda than the Queen is.

He was arrested on 22 January during a visit to Nuremberg for a Kurdish cultural event. The legal grounds to extradite him to Turkey are shaky, especially after the case of Nuriye Kesbir, a self-confessed member of the PKK guerrilla group. When Turkey sought to extradite her in January a Dutch court ruled that it would break international law because the Dutch could not rely upon Turkish guarantees that she would not be tortured (cue polite coughing and mentions of Charles Clarke).

It had been hoped that Turkey's proposed membership of the EU might lead to an improvement in its treatment of minorities. Yet in December, it disbanded Amnesty International's ground-breaking Torture Prevention Group, seizing files and computer data with many victims' details on them. Kartal's arrest shows that rather than try to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurds' problems, Turkey prefers to attack Kurdish leaders at home and in the million-strong diaspora in Europe. Ankara claims to defend democracy from terrorist attack while adopting its own draconian measures. But to be fair, Turkey can't be singled out for that. (Cue polite coughing . . .)