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The case of a 16-year-old jailed for attending a protest highlights the harshness of the country's penal code.
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey – If Turkish prosecutors have their way, Hebun Akkaya, a timid 16-year-old with a hesitant manner, could spend seven years in jail for having joined a demonstration a year ago in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.
Akkaya has already spent 10 months in jail awaiting trial, although he was recently released on bail pending an appeal.
His crime? Protesting the prison conditions of Adbullah Ocalan, the jailed head of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).
While the European Union and the United States have designated the PKK a terrorist organization, they have a substantial support base in Diyarbakir and throughout the predominantly Kurdish southeast.
In the past few years — as part of its push for European Union membership — Turkey has updated its penal code to more closely reflect international standards. But in 2006, the country took a step backwards with an amendment to the country’s anti-terror law that made it possible to try minors between the ages of 15 and 18 when the crime is deemed to include terrorism.
Compounding the problem, that same year Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that anyone participating in demonstrations supported by an illegal organization should be charged with aiding or acting in the name of the organization — effectively banning most forms of protest in the pro-Kurdish southeast.