Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Roj-TV and the 53 Mayors

A Diyarbakır court convicted 53 mayors on Tuesday for "praising a terrorist organization." The charges followed a petition to the Danish government that the mayor signed last year asking that the PKK-affiliated Roj-TV stay on the air. Roj-TV is the most watched television station in the southeast and is transmitted from a station in Belguim. The channel's ties with the PKK are currently being investigated by the Danish government, which license the broadcasts from the Belgian station into Turkey.

Turkish authorities have been relentless in their efforts to close the station, which often runs interviews with PKK members in mountain hideouts. However, Belgian and Danish government officials have not been so receptive to Turkey's very strong claims that the station incites violence. As always, the question of just how the organization is affiliated with the PKK is very complicated, and it is certainly not the mouthpiece the Turish government declares it to be. That said, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that the station receives a substantial amount of its funding from the PKK and ties are no doubt present. However, again, to understand the claim is to understand the PKK's complicated structure and dominance in the southeast. Many Kurds refer to the PKK as "the Organization," and is so a part of Kurdish political life that it is difficult to tackle any civil society project without being somewhat affiliated, or perhaps a better word is "entangled," within the larger PKK web.

Among the mayors prosecuted is the venerable Osman Baydemir, the mayor of the greater Diyarbakır municipality. Although the prosecutor had asked for two-year prison sentences, Baydemir's sentence and those of the 52 other mayors, mostly members of DTP, were commuted to a fine of YTL 1,835. In fact, at the case's inception, the prosecutor had asked that all 53 mayors be charged with aiding and abetting a terrorist organization, a charge that carries up to 15 years in prison.

In February, Belguim assessed a 4 million euro fine on Roj-TV and seized its funds. Although the station has been careful in recent years not to push too many boundaries, even running educational programs on the European Union.

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