The director of a children’s choir is still wanted by the Turkish authorities after she and members of her choir were accused of spreading propaganda for an outlawed separatist group.
An arrest warrant was issued for director Duygu Ozge Bayar after the Diyarbakir Yenisehir Municipality Children’s Choir sang the Kurdish language anthem Ey Raqip (Hey Enemy) at a world music festival in San Francisco in October 2007. The choir sang songs in a total of nine different languages including a Turkish patriotic song (Canakkale Marsi).
Amnesty International issued a public statement on 18 June, expressing concern over the threat the prosecution posed to the right to freedom of expression, and stating that the singing of Ey Raqip cannot be regarded as a threat to public order.
Members of the choir and their director were charged with “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation or its aims” after Turkish prosecutors said that the song was the anthem of the PKK – the separatist militant group Turkish troops have been fighting for over two decades. The conflict has cost almost 40,000 lives.
Nine choir members between the ages of 12 and 17 were tried for the offence in two separate courts. They each faced up to five years in prison.
Three boys aged 15, 15 and 17 at the time that the alleged offence was committed were tried in an adult court in Diyarbakir in the south east of Turkey on 19 June. Six other members of the choir under 15 years of age were prosecuted for the same offence at a Children’s Court on 3 July.
In both cases the charges were dropped because it was judged that the march was sung upon request and that the children did not intend to commit a crime.
The lawyer for the children, Baran Pamuk, said he was angry because the implication of the judge’s ruling meant that singing Ey Raqip remained a crime.
Michael Santoro, who runs the San Francisco World Music Festival, and who invited the choir to take part, said: “These events were not political propaganda, nor were they designed with a separatist agenda in mind.”
Duygu Ozge Bayar said that the song was requested by the audience in San Francisco. “We shared our culture there, at the festival,” she said in a statement. “We sang various songs showing the styles of Diyarbakir … If performing these songs is separatism, then we are guilty of promoting separatism.”
There is still an arrest warrant out for Duygu Ozge Bayar who stayed in the US after the festival to study English.