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.
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
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.