The UK is targeting the Kurds and their supporters at Turkey’s behest, a journalist facing trial for holding up a Kurdish flag at a pro-Kurdish demonstration has said.
Mark Campbell, a veteran photojournalist, activist and Medya News contributor, will face trial on 17 and 18 January together with Beritan, a female Kurdish activist. Both are accused of holding up a flag associated with the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), during a protest over a Turkish airstrike which killed eight civilians on a picnic in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“Obviously holding a flag is of danger to nobody. More than anything else, it’s a freedom of expression issue,” Campbell tells Medya News. “But it’s also a highly political issue because that flag represents the struggle of Kurdish people for basic human and political rights in Turkey, and it’s being criminalised.”
His comments are echoed by Beritan, who asks: “Why should the British government be afraid of me, or of Kurds? We respect all other countries and laws, but we also have the right to our own flag, land and national identity.”
While the PKK is listed as a terror organisation in the UK, it was only included on the UK list following Turkish pressure on the United States, even though it has never sought to conduct any attack on UK soil. The group, which has been involved in a decades-long armed conflict with the Turkish Armed Forces, has latterly gained global sympathy for its leading role in the fight against ISIS, notably operating in tandem with US airstrikes to save the Yazidi religious minority from genocide.
In a recent landmark case, a top court in Belgium found the PKK could not be considered a terror organisation since it is involved in a legitimate civil conflict with Turkey. “Without recognition of Kurds’ right to self-determination, there’s never going to be an avenue for peaceful resolution,” Campbell says.
But the UK, which has a long track record of prosecutions and legal harassment on behalf of Turkey, is likely to turn a deaf ear to any such arguments. “I hope that as a result of this trial, a little more light is shone onto the deep relationship that the UK has with Turkey, one of the world’s worst human rights abusers,” Campbell says. “Turkey was one of the first countries with which the UK had a defence and economic trade deal after Brexit,” he adds, noting that the current head of British intelligence agency MI6 is a former UK ambassador to Turkey, Richard Moore.
In other recent incidents, the UK’s main Kurdish community centre has been raided by scores of police, armed police have raided the homes of members of the Kurdish community, and Kurds and their supporters have been detained and interrogated on the UK border, including freelance journalist and Medya News contributor Matt Broomfield. Repressive incidents of this nature often follow directly after meetings or trade deals between the UK and Turkish representatives, Campbell argues.
“When [former Prime Minister] Theresa May signed a jet and arms deal with Turkey in 2017, it was obvious Turkey said ‘you have to crack down on the Kurds’,” Campbell says, noting this attack preceded a wave of home raids. “And days after [Defence Minister] Grant Shapps signed another recent deal with Turkey, we saw the horrendous sight of police raiding the Kurdish community centre in London. It’s clear to anybody that Turkey are telling the UK to crack down on Kurdish political exiles.”
The two activists have called for protesters to support them and demand an end to the criminalisation of the UK’s Kurdish community, from 9am on 17 January outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court, London. “I call on the Kurdish people to come out before the court, to condemn the UK’s terror law, the stifling of the voice of freedom, and the violation of human rights and democracy for the Kurdish people,” Beritan says.