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Leyla Zana

Leyla Zana is a Kurdish human rights activist, politician, and former political prisoner. An outspoken advocate for Kurdish people in Turkey and neighboring regions, Zana became the first Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish parliament in 1991. In 1994, she was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison for speaking Kurdish on the parliamentary floor, and Amnesty International declared Zana a prisoner of conscience. She received the Rafto Prize in 1994, and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Union in 1995. While incarcerated, she published “Writings from Prison,” in which she chronicled the hardships she faced while fighting for the rights of Kurds. After an intensive international campaign that led the European Court of Human Rights ruling against Turkey, Zana was finally released in 2004. In 2011, she was re-elected to the parliament. The following year, Zana was charged with “spreading terrorist propaganda” but was able to avoid another ten-year prison term with her parliamentary immunity. During this time Zana continued to advocate for Kurdish rights and a peaceful end to the Turkish conflict. However, as tensions flared in the spring of 2016, the Turkish parliament voted to lift the immunity of pro-Kurdish MPs, including Zana, a move which was widely condemned by the European parliament and international rights community. As a result, in November 2016, Zana was arrested along with six other pro-Kurdish parliamentarians by Turkish police and charged with terrorism.

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