Dafydd Iwan, past President of Plaid Cymru- the Party of Wales, has just returned from Copenhagen where he observed the trial of Kurdish satellite channel Roj TV.
The trial of the Kurdish language broadcaster Roj TV has been proceeding in Copenhagen since 14 August. The channel, watched by millions of Kurds every day in Turkey, Europe and Kurdistan, to whom it is a vital source of information and a cultural lifeline, is facing the withdrawal of the broadcasting license it holds from Denmark. Following intense pressure from Turkey to close down the television channel, Roj TV stands accused of being little more than a mouthpiece for the PKK and of making propaganda for terrorism. The trial is currently continuing and a verdict is expected sometime in December. The outcome of the trial could see Roj TV shut down, so it is a vital and urgent question for the Kurdish people, who fear a grave injustice is about to be done to their rights to freedom of expression in their mother tongue. Dr Dafydd Iwan, the former President of Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales, a longstanding supporter of the rights of the Kurds, flew to Copenhagen to observe the trial in a visit organised by the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign. David Morgan spoke to him about his impressions of the trial and the fundamental issues that it raises.
Why did you feel it was necessary to visit the Roj TV trial in Copenhagen?
I have followed the cause of the Kurdish people for many years, and their continuing persecution, especially in Turkey, is I believe one of the great forgotten injustices of our time. I saw the ROJ TV trial as a very blatant manifestation of this persecution, and an attempt to silence the only mass effective voice of the Kurds.
What was your opinion of Roj TV?
I have only seen a little of the programmes myself, but they always appear competent and effective. One programme about the PKK was shown in court on one of the days I was there, and I thought it was very well done, and the point being made by the defence was that it was shown in the context of a studio interview with the journalist involved. It was obviously not a piece of propaganda, but a very well presented documentary, showing the PKK fighters as real people, but also with some objective questioning regarding the use of violence, and the case for a peaceful resolution.
How important do you believe the channel to be for the Kurdish people?
The continuing oppression of the Kurdish language, and the unjustified restrictions on its use, and the absence of official support for the teaching of Kurdish history and culture, means that there is a real need for a TV service which speaks to the Kurdish people in their own tongue, and gives them information and news about their past and the present realities. It is a measure of its success that the Turkish government is ready to go to such lengths to try and destroy it.
What are your main impressions of the trial and how it was conducted?
This is obviously a political trial, and it is basically about the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the right of the public to have ready access to information. It is disappointing that the judge had refused to accept many of the witnesses proposed by the defence lawyer; it’s difficult to understand the reasoning behind this. Surely in such an important case, I would think the more witnesses the better, and the wider the evidence examined.
The prosecution evidently has more resources at its disposal in court, and I fail to see why the judge should allow such an impression of inequality to prevail.
What is the main substance of the case against Roj TV?
The prosecution’s case seems to be very narrow: it is attempting to prove one thing only – that there is a direct link between ROJ-TV and the PKK. It therefore attempts to shut out all other considerations – regarding freedom of information, freedom of the press, the importance of its cultural and artistic merits, and language rights. During my visit, I felt that their method of trying to prove the PKK links was very superficial and circumstantial. For example, a photo was shown of one person in the company of apparent PKK members, and then accounts were shown which implied that payments had been made to that person for appearing on a ROJ TV programme. Such “evidence” would be laughed out of any self-respecting court of law, and I suspect the judges in Copenhagen will be of a similar opinion.
What does Roj TV say in response?
It was the prosecution who took up most of the time during my visit to the court, but ROJ-TV’s case is that they are providing a wide-ranging service to the Kurdish people, including children’s and cultural programmes. However, it is disturbing that the judge has ruled against showing any clips from this wide spectrum of programme content. Again, I fail to see how this helps to give the impression of a fair and balanced trial. After all, since the object is so drastic – and almost unprecedented – to close a whole TV service, should not the court see the whole range of the service provided, and not just clips taken out of context by the prosecution? ROJ-TV is also adamant that there are no formal links between it and the PKK.
Could it be argued that Roj TV’s broadcasting license had become an embarrassment for Denmark since former Prime Minister Rasmussen became Secretary General of NATO?
On the contrary, I believe that this case itself could be a huge embarrassment for Denmark. It would be very sad and ironic that a country which prides itself on its openness and democratic tradition, should be the one to close an entire TV service which provides an essential service to an oppressed people. For the sake of Denmark, as well as the Kurdish people, I hope that justice will prevail and that Denmark’s legal integrity will be upheld. It has nothing to do with NATO, so any embarrassment on that score is irrelevant.
Do you think Turkey exerted undue pressure on the Danish authorities to withdraw the broadcasting license and take action against the channel?
That now seems very likely, although I cannot prove it. However, I do have experience of the way the Turkish authorities can exert pressure on anyone who does not do as they wish.
What do you think of the outcome/what the outcome will be?
I do believe that the integrity of the Danish legal and justice system will prevail, and ROJ-TV will win their case. If not, the consequences for Denmark would be a great loss of face, and a great blow to their international standing as a nation.
Do you have any final conclusions/remarks/impressions?
I believe this trial to be of very great significance, way beyond the Kurdish case. I belong to a small nation which has its own language and traditional culture, and we had to campaign long and hard for a TV service in our own language. There was another recent threat to the independence, and indeed the very future, of this TV channel in Wales, and the campaign was reignited. Attending the ROJ-TV trial in Copenhagen raised some fundamental issues in my mind, and reminded one how frail our freedom is, and how easily threatened are our rights and the rights of a free press. The price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilance.