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Kurdish broadcaster Roj TV has lost another battle in its long and controversial fight to stay on air. Denmark’s Supreme Court last month ruled to uphold the ban on the Kurdish-language broadcaster, which had been transmitting programs from Denmark to Europe and the Middle East since 2004. Roj TV’s former director, Imdat Yilmaz has announced plans to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The broadcaster had long been a sore spot in relations between Denmark and Turkey, with the latter viewing the broadcaster as a mouthpiece for the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) – which is considered a terrorist organisation by the US and EU. However Kurds – a minority group making up between 10 and 23 per cent of the Turkish population – have long felt the heavy hand of the Turkish state on their language and culture.
Since the station’s launch, Turkey’s radio and TV authority – the ominously named Radio and Television Supreme Council – made a number of formal complaints to Denmark against the broadcaster. These had, until 2010, been dismissed by Denmark’s Radio and Television Board on the basis that “contested clips do not contain, in the opinion of the Board, incitement to hatred due to race, nationality, etc. In more than one clip, democracy, democratic solutions, democratic revolution and the like are even mentioned.”
But in 2010, Danish authorities did bring criminal charges against Roj TV – on the grounds that it was promoting terrorism. Roj TV was then convicted in 2012 by the Copenhagen City Court.
But controversially, Denmark’s decision to prosecute Roj TV on these charges was detailed in a leaked official document. The diplomatic document appearing to describe a deal struck between Turkish authorities and the then Danish Prime Minister – offering the closure of Roj TV in exchange for Turkey supporting the appointment of the then Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to NATO secretary general in 2009.
The document refers to the Danish Radio and Television Board’s failure to find incitement to hatred or violence in Roj TV’s content, and so urges for Danish authorities to “think creatively about ways to disrupt or close the station, should criminal prosecution prove unachievable in the short term.”
Also mentioned is the need for “…some new evidence or approach that can shield them against charges of trading principle for the former prime minister’s career.”
Rasmussen, who is now NATO secretary general, has denied agreeing to shut the station.
The Wikileak document can be read in full here.
Roj TV have admitted maintaining contacts with to the PKK, but deny they are a mouthpiece for the organisation, or that they received funding from it. The station’s former general manager, Manouchehr Tahsili Zonoozi, has previously commented: “We are an independent Kurdish broadcaster. Our job is to be journalists.”
Last month’s decision by Denmark’s Supreme Court marks a line of increasingly punitive rulings against the broadcaster. The legal battle started with just a fine in the Copenhagen City Court in 2012 – the court found no legal basis to follow the prosecution’s recommendation that the station’s broadcasting license be revoked.
The appeal to the Eastern High Court in 2013 saw its broadcasting rights confiscated indefinitely and the existing fine increased, causing Roj TV and its parent company to file for bankruptcy.
Now that the ruling has been upheld by Denmark’s Supreme Court, the station plans to take the case to the ECHR, with Roj TV’s former director Imdat Yilmaz telling Danish newspaper Arbejderen that he hopes “instead of connecting Roj TV to ‘terrorism,’ the court may relate it to ‘freedom of speech”.
Kurdish-language programmes were banned in Turkey until 2002 and, until 2008, Kurdish-language programs were restricted to 45 minutes per day. TRT 6, Turkey’s first Kurdish-language station and part of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, was launched in 2008 and broadcasts Kurdish programmes that promote the Turkish state and counter PKK.