By Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s highest court on Friday ruled the sentencing of nine academics for signing a letter in 2016 that called for an end to the conflict in the country’s southeast amounted to a violation of their rights, state-owned Anadolu agency said.
The academics were accused of spreading terrorist propaganda for signing an open letter titled “We will not be a party to this crime!”. It was published in January 2016 in reaction to months of fighting between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), after a 2-1/2-year ceasefire broke down in 2015.
After the ceasefire ended, the Turkish government had put large parts of the southeast under curfew and some largely Kurdish areas were bombarded by heavy weapons.
The nine academics had appealed to Turkey’s Constitutional Court. Eight members of the court ruled that their rights had not been violated, while nine accepted their appeal, Anadolu said.
The court’s verdicts are binding and can lead to the acquittal of academics still on trial, or lead appeals courts to overturn verdicts of those sentenced.
Calling themselves “Academics for Peace,” the 1,128 initial signatories included Turkish scholars and prominent overseas academics such as American linguist Noam Chomsky.
They said Turkey was condemning residents of towns in the southeast to hunger through the use of curfews and also called for a solution to the conflict that included talks with the Kurdish political movement.
The government says its measures were necessary to root out Kurdish militants who had dug trenches and laid explosives. The United Nations has estimated the security operations left 2,000 people dead and up to half a million displaced.
A total of 785 signatories were put on trial in separate cases, according to Academics for Peace, which also says that 204 had been sentenced so far.
Friday’s court verdict will be sent to lower courts for re-trials and the removal of the violation, Anadolu said. The applicants would be paid 9,000 lira ($1,595.18) in compensation.
The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has waged an insurgency against the state since the 1980s, that has killed more than 40,000 people.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)