Why PKK Ceasefire Could Spark True Peace Between Kurds And Turkey

After jailed rebel leader Ocalan's call for Kurds to lay down their arms, a closer inspection of his words show real signs of hope to end three decades of bloodshed.

A young boy holds a flag with Ocalan's face at the Newroz celebrations
A young boy holds a flag with Ocalan's face at the Newroz celebrations
Murat Yetkin

ISTANBUL - Thursday's historic address from the jailed Kurdish guerilla leader Abdullah Ocalan was not a mere ceasefire, nor a passing order to lay down arms. It was a call to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to bid farewell to arms, and end a 30-year period of war and bloodshed that has claimed over 40,000 lives.

On Mar. 21, the day that marks the Kurdish spring holiday of Newroz, Ocalan addressed millions of his followers through letters that were read out at a Turkish government-backed event in the southeastern Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir. It was the first time the leader made an address with full support from both Turkish and Kurdish leadership.

Let’s take a look at Ocalan’s rhetoric in the letter. Not only did he call for an end to the armed struggle, but he also called to enter a new era of “democratic politics.”

“Let the weapons fall silent and let the policies speak up,” he said. But this phrase has been uttered before. Not by Ocalan but by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been repeating these words for the past two years.

Ocalan, who has spent the past 14 years in solitary confident on the island of Imrali, used a direct quote from Erdogan to reaffirm the joint aspirations in this peace process.

The missing word

Peace talks have been carried out in the past between Turkey and the PKK, but this is the first time that the Turkish government has made the process public. For Kurds, the process comes with hopes and demands for rights under the Turkish constitution, and freedom to express their identity within the country.

There are some other important details within Ocalan’s address. He says, “Today we wake up to a new Turkey, a new Middle East and a new future.”

Now, for the Kurds there is still something missing in this equation: Kurdistan. For years the PKK has been fighting for autonomy and Ocalan previously had ambitions to carve out an independent region from Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. But in this letter the word is only used once in a different context. It is used to describe a geographical region like “Anatolia,” and is not described as a separate political entity. Now it seems Ocalan’s aim is to have ‘modernist democracy’ instead of a separate political entity.

Ocalan said his call was “Not an end, but a beginning.” Erdogan has welcomed Ocalan’s address, calling it “positive.” The Turkish Prime Minister announced that once the militants drop their arms, Turkish military operations would also be halted.

Having successfully passed the critical Newroz threshold, there is a lot for both the government and the PKK to do in order to secure this peace process. A series of confidence-building measures will be needed in order to bring an end to a painful chapter in Turkey's history.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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