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Top court says demanding freedom for jailed PKK leader is free speech

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Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled that demanding the release from prison of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan and launching a campaign to agitate for his release fall within the boundaries of freedom of expression, the Mezopotamya news agency reported.

The top court ruled on the individual petitions of two people who were sentenced to 10 months in jail each on terrorism charges for distributing campaign forms with Öcalan’s photo on them.

Authorities in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakır in February 2015 seized a number of forms prepared by Berrin Baran Eker and Muzzaffer Özbek. Titled “Signature petition for Abdullah Öcalan’s freedom,” the forms read: “I support the demand for the release of Abdullah Öcalan and political prisoners in Turkey. The freedom of Öcalan will be the most important step for the democratization of Turkey and the peace process in Kurdistan.”

Eker and Özbek were members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democratic Party (BDP), the predecessor of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). An investigation was then launched on allegations of disseminating terrorist propaganda.

The Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court in May 2015 sentenced Eker and Özbek to 10 months in jail. The applicants’ appeal at the Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court was rejected, which made it possible for them to take their case to the Constitutional Court.

Handing down a verdict similar to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the top court said the lower court’s decision violated the applicants’ right to freedom of thought and expression.

A retrial will be held for Eker and Özbek at the Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court following the top court’s ruling.

The PKK, which has been waging a bloody war in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984, is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US. Öcalan has been imprisoned since 1999.

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