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Ilisu Dam Lawyer on trial for "Insulting the Government"

A leading lawyer in Turkey is to stand trial for insulting the Turkish state on 18 March 2003, for his criticism of the controversial Ilisu Dam project.

Mr. Mahmut Vefa, who is General Secretary of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, is accused of "overtly insulting the moral personality of the Government and the military and security forces" for his article, published in the Diyarbakir Bar Association Journal in January 2002. If convicted, Mr Vefa would face between one and three-years imprisonment.

The article is based on Mr Vefa’s formal submission to the UK government of a critique of the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment, in September 2001. The UK government invited comments on the Ilisu dam project from ‘concerned stakeholders’, to inform its decision whether to provide £160 million backing for the dam.

The dam, which would have displaced over 78,000 people, is effectively ‘on hold’, after international backing was withdrawn. (1)

The Kurdish Human Rights Project, in conjunction with Friends of the Earth and the Corner House, is sending a delegation to observe the trial and to ensure that Turkey complies with its obligations to provide a fair trial and to protect free expression under the European Convention on Human Rights. The groups will then urge the UK Government to seek assurances that Mr Vefa’s rights be respected.

In his article, Mr Vefa states that the Ilisu Dam, if built, would deny local people their property rights and exacerbate the problems of resettlement for the thousands of people who have been displaced by the Turkish authorities’ practice of "village destructions" over the last decade.

Turkey has a longstanding record of violating the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly in the Kurdish South-east regions. Almost one-quarter of the 19,000 cases outstanding at the European Court of Human Rights in 2001 concerned Turkey. The cases concern extra-judicial killings, torture, the right to a fair trial, village destruction and freedom of expression.

Kerim Yildiz, Director of the Ilisu Dam Campaign, comments, "We have said all along that there could be no open consultation with affected communities where the Ilisu Dam would be built, because freedom of expression is so heavily restricted. The case against Mr Vefa, a lawyer, demonstrates that people are not free to express their views in Turkey."

The Kurdish Human Rights Project and other delegation members will publish a report on its findings of the trial observation next month.

For further information please contact:

Kerim Yildiz, Executive Director / Anders Lustgarten, Environmental

Officer / Rochelle Harris, Public Relations Officer

Kurdish Human Rights Project / 2 New Burlington Place, London W1S 2HP

Tel: 020 7287 2772 / Fax: 020 7734 4927

Kate Geary, Ilisu Dam Campaign.


(1) Turkey had sought international backing for the £1.6 billion Ilisu dam project from European and US export credit agencies including the UK’s Export Credit Guarantee Department. In November 2001, the lead contractor for the dam, UK firm Balfour Beatty, pulled out of the project citing environmental and social concerns, effectively ending UK support for the dam. Italy, Sweden and Switzerland have also withdrawn from the project.

Click here for Mr Vefa’s article, the basis of his indictment.

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