Leyla Zana is a Kurdish politician and member of Peace and Democracy party in Turkey. She has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by Diyarbakir's High Court for nine speeches she has made between 2007 and 2008. Once again she is charged with "spreading propaganda" on behalf of the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK. This rebel group is fighting for Kurdish autonomy in southeast Turkey.
Zana has already spent nearly a decade in prison on similar charges of spreading propaganda on behalf of PKK in the past. As an MP she has immunity from prosecution which means her sentencing will be in effect when she leaves parliament. However in the past her parliamentary immunity has been stripped. In 1994 she was arrested and charged on allegation of being a member of PKK, which she denied. She was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison. At her sentencing she said,
This is a conspiracy. What I am defending is perfectly clear. I don't accept any of these accusations. And, if they were true I'd assume responsibility for them, even if it cost me my life. I have defended democracy, human rights, and brotherhood between peoples. And I'll keep doing so for as long as I live.
In 1994 she was awarded the Ratfo Prize for her peaceful struggle towards advancing Kurdish rights. And in 1995 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was also awarded the 1995 Sakharov prize by the European Parliament while imprisoned. During this period, she was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
Leyla Zana is the first Kurdish woman to win a seat in the Turkish parliament. She created nationwide controversy when she spoke in Kurdish in parliament while being sworn in because Kurdish language was banned at the time both publicly and privately. It was only the final sentence of the oath that was spoken in Kurdish, but it created a stir nonetheless. She was booed off stage, chanted against and many MPs tried to forcefully remove her from the podium.
In 2001 European court of Human rights ruled against Turkey after reviewing her trial. The result was recognized in 2003 by Turkey, and in 2004 a prosecutor quashed her sentencing, and was released.
As of 2007 Leyla Zana has been both vocal and active about Kurdish rights. She was re-elected to parliament on June 12, 2011, during the general election.
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