Efforts to Free Zana



Leyla Zana has served ten years of a fifteen-year prison sentence. Though numerous retrials have not yet altered her situation, groups around the world continue to advocate her release. One such group is the American Kurdish Information Network, or AKIN, established and directed by Kani Xulam, a Kurdish-American doing everything in his power to bring about Zana's release.

From March 5th until October 11th, 2001, several members of AKIN held a vigil across from the headquarters of Turkey's ambassador to the United States. The vigil took place inside "The Cell of Atonement," a structure evoking the cells of the Kurdish political prisoners whose liberation AKIN demands. AKIN's actions certainly brought attention to the organization's cause; the government of Turkey advised US leaders to put a stop to AKIN's demonstration, and send Xulam back to Turkey, and on September 30th, an estimated 3,000 Americans joined AKIN to protest the Parliamentarians' incarceration. Although the US government took measures to ensure the safety of the protestors and guarantee them their due liberties, the protestors faced many prejudices, and in one instance an armed man assaulted a member of AKIN. In 2004, the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to America was met by a widespread outcry from the Kurds at his refusal to free the imprisoned.


Amnesty International

Another group that has stood by Leyla Zana since her imprisonment and has tried all sorts of methods to bring about her release is Amnesty International, a well known organization created to protects human rights throughout the world. Amnesty International has declared the Kurdish MPs, including Leyla Zana, to be "prisoners of conscience" and demands their "immediate and unconditional release." Zana was designated as a Special Focus Case, and since 2002, Amnesty International has organized events, protests, and petitions across New England, one of which we attended during the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to America. Outside Harvard's Kennedy School stood many protestors in the freezing weather, peacefully but fervently protesting the unfair trial of Leyla Zana and her colleagues.

Also, in November of 2003, Amnesty International invited Mehdi Zana, husband of Leyla Zana, to come to Boston University to do a lecture on the current affairs between Turkey and the Kurds. In addition to these events, Amnesty International staff and volunteers have made pamphlets, brochures, posters, and flyers, and have written letters to Turkish officials vying for a retrial and a possible release. To update information constantly, Amnesty also has a Leyla Zana e-mail list-serve, sending out new information about her current situation and her retrial. Amnesty's efforts have proved to be extremely successful, as Leyla Zana and her colleagues has been given fourteen retrials since their imprisonment, despite the fact that they did not win any of them and still remain in prison today.

Throughout our process, several people from Amnesty International have helped us with our website. One such person is Kevin Semanick, Northeast Regional Special Focus Case Coordinator. Bill Jones, Turkey Country Specialist, who resided in Turkey for a long period of time, informed us oncurrents affairs between Turkey and the Kurds.



The European Union refuses to admit Turkey into the EU unless certain conditions involving human rights are improved; the Kurdish Parliamentarians’ release has been clearly indicated as an important step in proving that Turkey is meeting these conditions. Some speculate that the EU may simply be using Leyla Zana as an excuse for delaying or denying Turkey’s admission into the EU, while others consider the ideals she represents important enough to push for more pressure on Turkey to release her. Regardless, the pressure imposed by the EU did make Turkey improve its human rights policies, including those involving the right to have a Kurdish education.

In addition to the EU, the International Human Rights Law Group has also worked vigorously to investigate Zana's initial trial held in Ankara in 1994, and has declared the trial to be unlawful and in violation of human rights. In 2002, troubled by this conclusion, 50 members of the United States Congress sent a letter demanding Leyla Zana and her colleagues’ release to Prime Minister Erdogan in 2002. Also, during the Clinton administration, members of Congress pressed for the release of Zana and her colleages, although their efforts were unsuccessful. Concerned members of the international community are supporing Leyla Zana and pushing for her release as well. One such person is the former first lady of France and founder of "Fondation France-Libertés," Madame Danielle Mitterand, who corresponded with Leyla Zana by mail during her imprisonment and gave her much comfort and encouragement.

These organizations and people have made Leyla Zana’s imprisonment more endurable and have maintained her sanity. Their support has brought her into international spotlight and has given her a chance to realize her dream of equality between the Turkish and Kurdish citizens of Turkey.