In Turkey, hundreds of minors imprisoned on 'terrorism' charges
The 2006 antiterror law makes it a crime to take part in demonstrations supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
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"The court's decision is very dangerous for the rule of law and for individual freedoms," says Tahir Elci, a Diyarbakir lawyer who is defending several of the jailed children. "According to the high court's decision, prosecutors don't need evidence to claim that somebody committed crimes on behalf of the PKK. Just participating in a demonstration is evidence enough.Skip to next paragraph
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"We accept that these kids may have thrown stones, but they didn't do it in the name of the PKK," he adds. "They are children."
Turkish policy conflicts with UN, EU
The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child deals specifically with the issue of the arrest and imprisonment of minors. According to the convention, which Turkey has signed on to, "The arrest, detention, or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time."
A European Union official in Ankara says the arrest and imprisonment of minors is a cause for "concern."
The official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, added, "They are not being treated as juveniles, and that is against international conventions. They are being treated as terrorists, and they are not even aware of what they have done."
Brussels has previously expressed concern about what it sees as deficiencies in Turkey's juvenile court system. An EU report last fall on Turkey's progress as a candidate country stated, "Despite some progress in the juvenile justice system, the number of child courts is still inadequate, there is a lack of social workers in these courts and their workload is heavy."
In Adana, for example, the lack of juvenile justice facilities has meant that even children under the age of 15, who by law were supposed to be tried in juvenile court, ended up having their court cases heard in an adult court.
For one boy, jail prompted 'awakening' to PKK views
Turkish prosecutors have defended the heavy sentences given to the children arrested in protests, saying they are a response to an effort by the PKK to mobilize Kurdish youth against the state.
But Sinclair-Webb, of Human Rights Watch, says that sending children off to jail could backfire.
"It's a very hardening process for children and psychologically very damaging," she says. "If you go in as a child who was just having a lark throwing some stones, you may come out as a full-fledged militant.
"If you are trying to win hearts and minds and get people to not join the PKK, this is not the way to do it," she adds.
One teenager, imprisoned for 13 months after participating in a demonstration and now out on bail while he awaits trial, says he was "changed" by his experience in jail.
"I became more aware," says the 16-year-old boy, who asked not to be named because of his upcoming court case, where he could face seven years in prison if convicted.
"The things I learned in prison about myself, about the Kurds, about the PKK, it was like an awakening."