A French court on Friday convicted 11 alleged members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on charges of terrorist financing for its campaign to seek autonomy for the Kurdish minority in Turkey’s southeast, Agence France-Presse reported.
The accused, all Kurds from Turkey who speak little or no French, are suspected of being part of a network that seeks a so-called revolutionary tax, or “kampanya,” from the Kurdish diaspora.
Deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, the PKK has been waging a decades-long armed struggle against Ankara for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority.
Organized cells are believed to be active among France’s up to 150,000 Kurdish residents as well as among the 100,000 in the Netherlands and the million-strong community in Germany.
The Paris court found that “significant amounts” of funds had been obtained through threats, including “exclusion from the community.”
Four of the accused were already detained, and two failed to appear before the court. The defendants denied belonging to the PKK, saying it had no presence in France.
The sentences ranged from suspended three-year prison terms to five years behind bars with one year suspended.
But the court did not ban the defendants from French territory, as is common in terrorism cases since most of them have refugee status in France.
The investigation began in 2020 when two Kurdish women aged 18 and 19 were reported missing in southeast France.
It soon appeared that they had left for PKK training camps elsewhere in Europe.
The inquiry revealed a network based around a Kurdish association in the southern city of Marseille, which prosecutors say was collecting a form of community tax, the “kampanya,” that funds the PKK.
Testimony and phone taps revealed harassment and extorsion of diaspora members, investigators said, as the “tax collectors” set arbitrary contributions for individuals based on their estimated income.
Investigators believe around 2 million euros ($2.2 million) are collected in southeast France every year.