, DIYARBAKIR, May 13 – A Turkish court Thursday sentenced the former editor of a Kurdish-language newspaper to 166 years and six months in jail on charges of spreading propaganda for separatist rebels.
The court ruled that Vedat Kursun had "disseminated the propaganda of a terrorist organization" on 103 different occasions by publishing news stories and photographs about the outlawed Kurdistan Workers\’ Party (PKK) in the Azadiya Welat (Independence of Homeland) daily.
Kursun, who was present in the court in Diyarbakir, the regional capital of the mainly Kurdish southeast, was also found guilty of "committing a crime on behalf of the terrorist organization."
Defence lawyers said they would appeal the sentence.
In his defence, Kursun, who has been in custody since February 2008, had told the court that his decision to publish the stories and pictures in the paper, of which he was editor-in-chief, was not based on criminal intent.
"Our coverage is not different to other newspapers in this country. We always aimed to serve peace. We never published stories that would have incited the public to violence," he said.
Founded in 1994 as a weekly which turned into a daily in 2006, Azadiya Welat has often been the target of judicial action on grounds that it is a mouthpiece for the PKK, which has led a bloody 25-year rebellion against Ankara.
In February, Ozan Kilinc, who was the paper\’s editor-in-chief at the time, was sentenced to for 21 years in jail, also for spreading separatist propaganda.
His conviction was slammed by the International Press Institute as an "unacceptable" move that amounted to "government censorship of the media."
The PKK — blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the international community — took up arms in 1984 for self-rule in southeast Turkey, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.