September 6, 2019 / 11:30 AM / 15 days ago

Turkish court acquits an academic in 2016 Kurdish letter case

ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish court for the first time ruled on Friday to acquit one of nine academics who were charged with “propaganda of a terrorist organisation” for signing a 2016 letter calling for the end of a conflict in the country’s southeast.

The academics signed an open letter titled “We will not be a party to this crime!”, published in reaction to months of fighting between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), after a 2-1/2-year ceasefire broke down in 2015.

In July, Turkey’s highest court ruled that their sentencing amounted to a violation of rights.

On Friday, a court in Istanbul ruled for the acquittal of academic Ozlem Sendeniz after the prosecutor presented a change in his opinion and demanded the acquittal, citing the top court ruling that said the declaration is within the scope of freedom of expression. Sendeniz was ousted from her job at the Igdir University for signing the petition.

Calling themselves “Academics for Peace,” the 1,128 initial signatories of the letter published in January 2016 included Turkish scholars and prominent overseas academics such as American linguist Noam Chomsky.

They said Turkey was condemning residents of towns in the southeast to hunger through the use of curfews, and also called for a solution to the conflict that included talks with the Kurdish political movement.

After the ceasefire ended in 2015, the Turkish government had put large parts of the southeast under curfew and some largely Kurdish areas were bombarded by heavy weapons.

The government says its measures were necessary to root out Kurdish militants who had dug trenches and laid explosives. The United Nations has estimated the security operations left 2,000 people dead and up to half a million displaced.

The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has waged an insurgency against the state since the 1980s that has killed more than 40,000 people.

A total of 785 signatories were put on trial in separate cases and more than 200 had been sentenced so far, according to Academics for Peace.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer

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