For Immediate Release (# 52)

Contact: Kani Xulam
202.483.6444
February 28, 2001

Demands Release of Kurdish Parliamentarians Imprisoned for Speech

Washington, DC, Feb. 28 – March 5, 2001 will mark the seventh anniversary of Leyla Zana’s imprisonment in Ankara, Turkey. Elected to serve her Kurdish constituency in the Turkish parliament, Zana was persecuted throughout her political career and arrested after a brief standoff in the parliament building.

Accused of treason for speaking, among other things, a few words of her mother tongue, Kurdish, from the floor of the Turkish Parliament, a State Security Court sentenced her to fifteen-yearsí imprisonment. She subsequently was given an additional year for her writings.

Three of her Kurdish colleagues, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak were also accused of treason on charges that were similar. They received the same sentence.

Amnesty International and the European Parliament have called on Turkey to release these Parliamentarians, calling them prisoners of conscience, as have numerous members of the United States Congress.

A group of Kurds and their American friends are preparing to hold an open-ended vigil at Sheridan Circleóby the Turkish Embassyóbeginning March 5, 2001, at 2:30 p.m. Another group of Kurds and their friends will hold a brief vigil of their own in Los Angeles in front of the Turkish Consulate at the same hour.

“We want to raise awareness about the plight of the Kurdish parliamentarians and press for their release,” said Kani Xulam, one of the organizers of the vigil.

The group will hold a press conference on March 7, 2001, at 4 p.m., at the site of the vigilóthe corner of 23rd Street, NW and Massachusetts Avenue, NW. A replica of a Turkish prison cell will function as the site of the press conference as well as the future home of the protesters.

The cell, christened the “Cell of Atonement,” will remain in the park with protesters taking their turns in it until the Turkish government releases the parliamentarians or till a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for their release receives the support of 218 members of Congress.

Congressman Bob Filner will be the keynote speaker at the press conference. An author of several articles on the Kurds, he is also the first lawmaker to introduce a resolution on the plight of the Kurdish parliamentarians in the U. S. Congress.