ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – After nine years of proceedings, a court in Belgium on Friday acquitted multiple suspects accused of activities involving the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Federal judicial authorities had requested that 36 individuals and companies be tried by a criminal court on charges of taking part in terrorist activity.
The Belgian Chamber of Indictment, however, blocked prosecution against all those standing trial in the case, ruling that the conflict involving the PKK in Turkey is an “internal armed conflict” and, as such, the group cannot be considered a terrorist organization.
The PKK has fought a decades-long insurgency against Ankara over Kurdish rights, a conflict that has taken more than thirty-thousand lives on both sides.
The court judged that the PKK, including their armed branch that is known as the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), is to be considered a non-state actor involved in an intensive non-international conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state.
Therefore, it ruled, the case is subject to international humanitarian law when involving acts taking place on Turkish soil.
“Insufficient objections were found to be able to conclude that the PKK/HPG was guilty of terrorist crimes outside of the aforementioned conflict area,” the ruling stated.
“Therefore, the PKK/HPG cannot be considered as a terrorist group, and the participation in the activities or having a leading position within this organization is not punishable under Belgian criminal law.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the decision.
“It is possible to appeal against the decision in the Belgium Court of Appeals. Turkey will continue its legal fight determinedly,” ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said, in a statement.
Kurdish organizations welcomed the decision and called for the full removal of the PKK from European lists of terrorist groups.
“Today’s decision, and also the decision of the European Court [of] Justice of November 12 that the listing of the PKK on the EU terror list in 2014-2017 was unlawful, should ultimately lead to a reconsideration [of the listing] of the Kurdish freedom movements and its leaders,” read a statement released by the Cologne Legal Aid Fund for Kurds, also known as AZADÎ e.V.
This is not the first time the Brussels court has ruled that the PKK is not a terrorist organization. After judicial authorities opened a case against alleged members of the group for recruiting youth to fight in their armed struggle in 2015, a court returned a similar ruling.
According to VRT News, judicial authorities then took the case to the Indictments Chamber, which, in 2017 as in Friday’s decision, ruled that the conflict was an internal one and therefore outside its jurisdiction.
Editing by John J. Catherine