Europe's top human rights court rules Kurdish leader Ocalan did not receive fair trial

Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan did not receive a fair trial in Turkey, Europe's top human rights court ruled Thursday in a decision that will put pressure on Ankara to grant the country's most famous prisoner a new trial.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkish authorities breached international treaties by denying Ocalan the right to a fair and independent trial and barring his legal representative from contacting him after he was detained.

The European court's rulings are binding on all 46 members of the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog. The verdict, issued by the court's Grand Chamber, is final and cannot be appealed. It must be formally confirmed by the Council, which will then order Turkey to find remedy.

Turkish authorities blame Ocalan, who was arrested in Kenya in a cover-up operation six years ago, for leading the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in its 15-year-old battle for Kurdish autonomy, a conflict that left 37,000 people dead in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and the U.S. State Department.

Ocalan took his human rights case to Strasbourg after he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2002 when Turkey abolished capital punishment.

A lower chamber of the European court had ruled partially in Ocalan's favor in 2003, agreeing with him that his 1999 treason sentence came "at the outcome of an unfair trial".

Ocalan complained that one of the judges of the Ankara State Security Court was a military judge, the judges were influenced by hostile media reports and his lawyers were not given sufficient access to the court file to enable them to prepare his defense properly.

Both Ocalan's lawyers and the Turkish government then requested the case go to the Grand Chamber.

The case has been problematic for the Turkish government, which wants to live up to European human rights standards while dealing with Kurdish militants seeking autonomy.

On Tuesday, Turkey's foreign minister said Ocalan "would get the same punishment even if tried 100 times," should the human rights court demand his retrial.

"Everyone should know that the head of a terrorist organization, which has committed crimes that are known to the world, would get the same punishment even if tried 100 times," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said.

A day later, Gen. Hursit Tolon, a senior military commander, insisted that Ocalan's trial and punishment were fair.

"The trials were conducted in line with our constitution, our laws," he said.

JAN SLIVA, Associated Press Writer

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