Interview with Jan Fermon: On PKK vs. Turkey in Belgian Courts
A Brief Introduction From the Perspective of an International Law Attorney
In January of this year (2020), the Belgian legal system cleared 40 individuals and their respective organizations with ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), of charges of aiding terrorism. The court ruled that PKK is a non-state military organization engaged in domestic conflict, and under the Belgian penal law, such an organization is neither a party to terrorism nor subject to anti-terror laws. The court added that the ruling on this case could be regarded as legal precedent in international courts.
The recent trial was initiated in 2010 and it was based on the 2006 investigations of Belgium’s federal prosecutor. The federal court accused 36 individuals and their respective organizations of having ties to the PKK, and aiding this organization through activities such as recruiting members from Kurdish-Belgian families, transporting them to Greece and Iraq for training, gathering financial aid from Kurdish-Belgian businesses for PKK, using the Belgian media as a propaganda platform for PKK, sending technical and logistical equipment to this organization, etc. In November of 2013, the court announced its initial ruling: the PKK is not a terrorist organization but party to a domestic conflict; individuals and organizations tied to PKK cannot be tried for terrorism under the Belgian penal law. In 2017, the Belgian federal prosecutor reinitiated the proceedings in the court of appeal, which subsequently confirmed the initial decision in March 2019. The prosecutor’s case was based on the inclusion of PKK in the European Union’s terror list, but the court ruling declared PKK a party to domestic conflict and not an aggressor against the Belgian state. The court declared that PKK’s activities were in response to the Turkish state’s campaigns of domestic violence, and as such did not constitute a case of terrorism.
The ruling was based on the Belgian penal code of 1867 (amended in 2003 with respect to terrorism laws). The code compels Belgian courts to treat international cases with caution and bars their direct intervention in armed conflicts altogether. Section 37, Part 1 of the code reads:
“Terrorism charges are outlined in Parts 1 & 2, and they account for serious damages inflicted on a state or organization…” Part 1 of the same section outlines such terroristic activities: “1. First-degree murder or assault 2. Taking hostages 3. Kidnapping 4. Large-scale destruction (of buildings, bridges…) as a result of which human lives are seriously endangered, and there are serious material damages. 5. Hijacking airplanes…” Part 2 of Section 37 reads:
“These stipulations are not in accordance with human rights regulations, and do not apply to the armed forces of a state while carrying out their duties, because they are subject to international laws…” These stipulations were reflected in the defense of the accused. The defense stated: “Armed conflicts are not subject to Belgian penal laws and the accused have not committed acts of violence on Belgian or European soil. Undoubtedly, the court must decide if under these circumstances there is any substance to the accusations. Domestic armed conflicts do not take place at the interstate level but inside state boundaries, and often between a state and groups seeking political transformation when transformations cannot be achieved through normal political means. That the violence [of PKK against the Turkish state] is organized should be viewed in the framework of the severity of the conflict, either party’s complicity in this conflict, and according to the framework of international law. The mere fact of the inclusion of the PKK in a terror list does not provide sufficient ground for the listed accusations. Decisions to include organizations in a state’s terror lists are often a product of political and economic preferences of that state, and accordingly many states disagree with the legal uses of such lists, based on the principle of the presumption of innocence. Moreover, the Geneva convention’s protocols and the Rome Statute of 1998 are requisite to any proper investigation of the present case, for the Geneva protocols apply not only to international cases but also to domestic conflicts…The Red Cross also identifies the conflict between the Kurds and the Turkish state as a case of domestic conflict. What is more, after the 2013 ceasefire [between PKK and the Turkish state] it is hardly plausible to identify an armed group engaged in peace negotiations as a terrorist organization. The court should not discount the Kurds’ role in defeating ISIS either. The PKK follows the conventions of certain international treaties (such as laws against recruiting children or using landmines), and this compliance casts more doubts on accusations of terrorism against the PKK…” After the Turkish state’s harsh reactions to the decision of the court of appeal, the Belgian foreign minister declared that PKK will remain on the Belgian terror list, and urged the federal prosecutor to refer the case to the supreme court of the country. Even though Turkey’s protests were out of the norm since, under the principles of the separation of judicial and political institutions in Belgium, the courts should enjoy independence from political pressure or considerations. However, after continued pressure from the Turkish state, on 20 March 2019, the federal prosecutor referred the case to the Belgian supreme court. (author's name withheld)
Interview with Jan Fermon: On the Decision of Belgian Courts in Favour of the Kurdish Movement
Hassan Ghazi: Mr. Fermon, generally speaking among us Kurds there is a curiosity to find out more about the personal lives of those we engage in dialogue. I do not want you to go into details but could you introduce yourself, please? Jan Fermon: Well, that is a good question. Actually, I am a long-time activist in progressive social movements and I have worked as a lawyer since 1989. I have always tried to deploy my professional activities in constructive ways. Of course, to serve the cause of justice, people’s rights, and the cause of human rights in general. That is how I was inevitably drawn to cases concerning the Kurdish people. Ghazi: Have you been involved in criminal cases? Fermon: I have been involved in criminal cases, but my other cases were related to human rights issues. Ghazi: Genocide as well? Fermon: Well, I have worked on cases that were reviewed in Belgium in relation to the genocide in Ruanda; I have been active in many other fields related to human rights, international human rights, as well as cases reviewed in Belgium regarding war crimes and other international crimes. Ghazi: On 28 January of 2020, the Supreme Court of Belgium made a decision to acquit some Kurdish personalities and activists of the charges filed against them [by the Turkish state]. First of all, could you kindly explain how the judicial system in Belgium is organized and how it functions, please? Fermon: I will try to provide a bit of insight [into the Belgian legal system] in response to this question, because, of course, it is a complicated matter. In a criminal case, an investigation is initiated by the federal prosecutor. Ghazi: Normally? Fermon: That is the normal way, and it is also how things took place in this specific case. The federal Prosecutor then demands an investigating judge to conduct an inquiry; actually he or she is called an investigative judge, a kind of ‘super policeman’ who leads the investigation. When the investigating judge decides or believes that the investigation is complete, he transfers the file back to the prosecutor. The prosecutor then brings this file to a preliminary court, and a preliminary court decides on whether a trial should be held or not. We are [regarding the case under discussion] going through the last stages now, in which the court of appeal of Brussels decided in March, that is to say, last March [of 2019], that the case filed against the 41 Kurdish individuals under investigation –– actually 40 individuals and two media companies initially –– was not legitimate. So in March 2019, the Brussels court of appeal decided that there was no case against them, and this means that they will not be tried, and the court of cassation confirmed this view on 28 January 2020, deciding that the decision [of the court of March] should stand. Ghazi: I think the court of cassation has taken up this case before? Fermon: Yes, there is a pre-history. Actually, the investigation was concluded in 2015. As I mentioned earlier, the prosecutor must take the case to a preliminary court and request a trial date. In 2016, for the first time, the court of first instance stated that the case filed against the accused [was not legitimate]. The reasoning was that the struggle of Kurdish people and the struggle of the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] against the Turkish state was not a matter of terrorism; rather, it is a non-international armed conflict to which terrorism laws do not apply. That was the first decision in 2016. The prosecutor and the Turkish state, because the Turkish state was a party in the proceedings, then appealed this decision and the decision by the first court of appeal –– if I remember correctly in 2017. The decision was appealed again by the prosecutor and the Turkish state in the court of cassation, contesting the first decision, and it then went back to the court of appeal two more times. That is, the very first decision of the court of first instance, the first decision of the court of appeal, and the second decision of the court of appeal –– which is the one that stands today. They all say the same thing: this is an armed conflict, and a non-international armed conflict, which means that the laws of war apply [to this case] and not anti-terror laws. [Ergo,] PKK cannot be considered a terrorist organization in this view. Ghazi: Now, if we come to this concept of a non-governmental party, which is involved in an armed conflict, there are certain conventions for such an entity according to international humanitarian law. It would be interesting to know the background of such a [legal concept] here. I think during a recent international conference in Belgium you spoke about it and mentioned that historically it dates back to the Second World War. Fermon: I think this is important. You are absolutely right. It is a very important matter. Until WWII, any action using force against a state was considered by legal definition criminal action. That is how Nazi occupiers throughout Europe labeled resistance fighters terrorists, and that is why in any anti-colonial struggle prior to WWII, the anti-colonial fighters were considered common criminals or terrorists. Of course, because of the role played by the [local] resistance [movements] during WWII, and afterward the role played by anti-colonial movements everywhere, it became much more difficult to apply [the terror label] because these movements showed that the use of force against the state could be legitimate. Gradually, the idea that a non-state actor might also be a legitimate actor engaged in an internal conflict –– a conflict not between states but between a non-state group and a state –– became legitimate in international law. This is also how The Geneva Conventions were developed further. There is a so-called 2nd Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly refers to such situations. The war on terror actually changed this paradigm again. The war on terror regressed to the previous legal paradigm, where any action against the state can again be considered criminal acts, and according to it and from a legal point of view, actions against an oppressive state are not legitimate. The Brussels court –– and I think this has important implications beyond the Kurdish question –– its decision [in favor of PKK] reinstates the international laws developed in response to [the legal necessities of] WWII and anti-colonial resistance movements [of the bygone era]. The court advises caution about maintaining a necessary distinction between terrorism and civil war –– where the latter is a war between a state and part of the population, a war that can be perfectly legitimate and cannot be considered an act of terrorism. And that is why I think this [pre-history] is important and that the court’s decision goes some way toward re-establishing the rules of international law in a correct and precise way. Ghazi: Does it mean that this decision might have international implications? Fermon: Well, I think yes, it should. Now, whether it will or not will depend on many different factors. As you know in the ‘war on terror’, The United States took the lead and almost all European countries –– even some states beyond Europe –– followed the [legal] logic imposed by the United States in its entirety. How many among these states might take a step back now [in order to reconsider their recent actions], I do not know. But at the least [the recent decision in Belgium] is a very good sign, now that one court in Europe raised this question again and stated there has to be a distinction between acts of terrorism –– i.e. isolated violence against civilians –– on one hand, and the use of force against the state in the framework of an extended conflict, where parts of the population are in conflict with their state. Ghazi: I think even before this last decision, [there were other court cases related to] the Belgian court's proceedings. I am thinking about the decision by the European Court of Justice. Fermon: Well, the decision of the Court of Justice on removing the PKK from terror lists is actually a different matter, because delisting is a political decision and not a decision made by a judge. But PKK challenged its inclusion in terror lists before the decision of the Court of Justice, which is the judicial body that sanctions EU regulations. Ghazi: Is it kind of an administrative court? Fermon: It is a kind of an administrative court. It is actually a court through which EU citizens (and also non-citizens) might ask a judge to reassess any EU regulations that influence anyone negatively. Of course, terrorist lists and asset freezing, and everything that goes with them, bear negative consequences for an organization or individual listed on a terror list. Therefore, such an organization or individual can ask the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg to review their case and to eventually annul regulations with negative implications. That is what PKK did in November 2018, but this time PKK obtained a favorable decision. Unfortunately, the European Union immediately relisted PKK, and after the court had annulled all previous decisions to include PKK in the list. The European Union has reinstated PKK on the list and a new case is now pending. But in the court’s decision, there is indeed a reference to the decision of Belgian court –– i.e. as ‘the prior' or ‘first decision’ –– but that decision was not final at the time and still under investigation by the court of cassation. So the reference [made to this case] is modest; it is a partial reference. Ghazi: To clarify matters, one must say that these decisions do not bear on each other directly. I mean the European Court of Justice has no jurisdiction over decisions by courts in Belgium. Fermon: Absolutely none. The decision of the Belgian court is final and there is no other body, i.e. an international body, that has jurisdiction over it. The court’s decision, stating that PKK is not a terrorist organization and that therefore individuals or organizations that are accused of providing propaganda, collecting funds or recruiting for PKK –– because these were the concrete accusations made against those individuals and companies –– cannot be held accountable under terror laws. Actually, the court’s decision states that one cannot recruit for a terrorist organization, but since PKK is not a terrorist organization there is no crime in recruiting, providing propaganda or collecting funds for PKK. Ghazi: So before we go back to the historical aspect of this case, I would like to know whether there is a possibility to reinstate such an accusation or not? Fermon: In principle, yes, because criminal cases are always against a specific person and based on a specific act. But I think with the decision we have now it will be extremely difficult for the prosecution to revive the case, and to take it again to the courts. Because most certainly the courts’ decision will be the same once more. Of course, if there is a case for collecting funds forcefully from someone, for example, then criminal prosecution is possible. But not on the basis of criminalizing collecting funds for a ‘terrorist organization’, which is still a crime even if you collect the funds in normal ways. But I think that kind of accusations [against PKK] is finished now. Ghazi: Is the content of so-called terror laws the same in all European Countries? Fermon: No, actually it is slightly more complicated than that. The origin of anti-terror laws, especially in Belgium, comes from a European framework for decisions. A framework decision sets the minimum standards for all member states of the European Union in fighting terrorism. Some countries already had anti-terrorism laws before this decision, such as France. The UK too did have prior anti-terror laws. Belgium did not have such laws until 2003. Until 2003, Belgium dealt with the phenomenon of terrorism, because there were of course cases of terrorism, under its normal criminal law. When acts of murder were originated by organizations, the Belgian [legal system] dealt with them under the stature of criminality –– normal criminality. In 2003, because The European Framework Decision was imposed on all member states along with the obligation to establish anti-terror laws, Belgium consolidated its own anti-terror legal system. In practice, Belgium copied word for word The European Framework Decision’s guidelines in its own legislations. Other countries decided that they wanted to set their own basic standards by use of different articles and different types of legal provisions. But Belgium literally copied the framework decision into its national law. Ghazi: Is it forever binding? Is there any possibility for further legal scrutiny because of this, due to changes in its provisions, etc.? Fermon: In Belgium you mean? Ghazi: Yes, I mean in Belgium. Fermon: The legislature can always change the law. The parliament can change the law. On different occasions since 2003, it has done so by creating new archetypes of terrorist offenses and also by adjusting some aspects of the initial law. So yes, there is a possibility to change the law. But on this particular matter, there is something important to remember, and that is the principle that anti-terror laws do not apply to armed conflicts, international or otherwise. This is a principle that is enshrined in Belgian law and also in the preamble to the European framework decision, which is binding on all European countries. This principle is also stated in all anti-terror and international treaties. So the distinction is not an esoteric ‘Belgian thing’. It is not something special to Belgium. This is a principle in all international anti-terror treaties, and also the treaties on financing terrorism, that is [cases related to terrorism] for specific reasons. So this principle should apply even if it is not enshrined in [a specific instance of] national law. To finally answer your question on whether [anti-terror] legislation is identical in all European countries, I would say the principle that anti-terror laws do not apply to armed conflicts should be enshrined in domestic law everywhere or should be applied in national courts in all EU states and even beyond, because this is above all an international treaty that goes far beyond the European Union’s conventions. Ghazi: Now, to go back to the history of this case, I want you to provide a narrative [about the case] from the beginning until now until the decision of the last week. Fermon: Yes! Do you want the official narrative or the real narrative? Ghazi: Your narrative. Fermon: Well, this case officially started through an investigation in March 2009. The official decision from the federal prosecutor to open the investigation dates to March 2009. But there is a story behind these decisions, and I think it is important to understand what led to these decisions. First of all in 1996 a Kurdish television channel in Belgium was raided by the police. A case was started [against the station] and at that time there were no anti-terror legislations, and so the police used money laundering and all kinds of other accusations against the television [to prosecute the case]. That case finally fell apart at the beginning of the new century, but it was still officially pending until I think 2007 or 2008, when in fact it had fallen apart in 2002 or 2003. We had found out (I was also involved in that case at that time) that police investigators had manipulated some of the witnesses, and we were able to prove this [in court] so the case fell apart. The Turkish authorities were very very angry about this [outcome], and tried to push Belgian authorities to reopen the case or do something else about it. We know the Turkish authorities started approaching the Belgian authorities in 2005 when the previous case was still pending officially, but had in fact had collapsed. But the Turks did not have much success and the Turkish embassy then turned to the US embassy for help, asking the US embassy to put pressure on the Belgians. Ghazi: I think you have some documents you want to show here. Fermon: Yes, we have in fact all the WikiLeaks cables which testify to the evolution of the case in this manner. The US embassy contacted the ministry of foreign affairs and, basically, the Belgian ministry of foreign affairs responded by saying that the materials that Turkey was providing (to push them to reopen the case) were useless. That there was nothing there, and that under Belgian law freedom of expression is no crime. The Americans then started organizing meetings with the Belgians in 2006. We have the reports of those meetings published on WikiLeaks. We see that the Americans sent three consecutive high-level delegations from the United States to Belgium, in order to put pressure on the Belgians to open [another] investigation. The focus was on two priorities: one was the Kurdish media in Belgium, which was the focal point of the talks; and the second priority was particular individuals and personalities active in the Kurdish National Congress, amongst whom was Mr. Ramzi Kartal who was specifically named in the cables. The discussions continued for some time and the Belgians adhered to their initial stance, that the evidence and materials provided by the Turkish authorities were useless. Americans then come out with a new offer: we can help you to build the case! This process goes on for about two years. In October 2008, a high-level Turkish delegation visits Belgium [to push further]; there is evidence of this but we do not know how it exactly happened. And the Belgians actually complained to the American embassy that that delegation was very heavy-handed in its handling of the talks. Then, I think it was the US embassy that brokered a visit from the Belgian ministers of foreign affairs, interior, and justice to Turkey in October of 2008. The federal prosecutor goes to Turkey in 2009, and it is miraculously this very same federal prosecutor that reopens the investigations of March 2009. So I think any reasonable person who reads these cables can see that there has been a build-up of US pressure (and Turkish pressure behind the scenes) to furnish the basis of this case at very high levels, and with very strong pressure put on the Belgians. This is the process that finally culminated in the formal reopening of the investigation in March 2009. And then, sometime in March of 2010, some of the Kurdish institutions in Brussels were raided, and some of the representatives of those organizations were arrested for a brief period and then quickly released from pre-trial detention by the court of appeal –– and then the investigation went on for another 10 years! No, not for 10 years, for 5 years! Actually, in 2015, the judge declared that he has collected all the evidence he needs and that he will hand over the case to the prosecutor to see if there is a solid case for trial. In the meantime –– and I think this is an interesting and dramatic aspect of this case –– it is the Turkish state that is the civil party in these proceedings because under Belgian law anyone who has suffered damage from a crime can be represented in a criminal trial, in order to get compensation for the damages suffered. In 2011, the Turkish state made such accusations and from then on it became officially part of the proceedings. As you also know, in 2013 the 43rd defendant of this case (Fidan Dogan) was assassinated in Paris by an operative of the Turkish MIT. We know that now in retrospect because the investigations demonstrated that there were numerous links between [the suspect] Ömer Günay and MIT. Even the Paris prosecutor refers to this evidence in the indictment he was supposed to bring before the court in Paris, had the mastermind of these assassinations not died just a few days before the trial was set to start. So we have a situation involving an investigation initiated under pressure from a civil party [which is a state], where the civil party assassinates one of the defendants –– which, I think, is an unseen situation from the point of view of criminal law. And you know the rest of the story, because I started with that part, then we went through the different court decisions leading up to the decision of 28 January, that is the final decision of the appeal court. There is no other way to appeal; by this decision, the whole investigation is officially closed. Ghazi: All these WikiLeaks cables, were they presented in court? Fermon: Yes, of course, we informed the court about these circumstances, but the main discussion in the court was not about the cable’s [contents]. The main discussion was on whether the conflict between Turkey and the PKK/HPG is armed conflict or not. And as a result of the decision, the discussions were mainly about whether it was International Humanitarian Law, The Geneva Conventions and the laws of war that applied to the conflict, or it was a situation involving isolated acts of violence against a state and considered terrorism. Ninety-nine percent of discussions in the court of appeal was about this latter issue. Ghazi: Were the accused compensated financially by way of this decision? Fermon: I would say this question refers to a general problem under the Belgian law and not only for these defendants, because only a very small amount compensation is allocated to the accused [for the costs, damages, and expenses of trial], and then only for time spent in jail. And luckily, in this case, the time some of the Kurdish defendants spent in jail was very short and they were almost immediately released from pre-trial detention by the court of appeal at the time. I think, already at that time the court of appeal understood that their case was not a matter of terrorism, in the sense that they were no threat to public security in Belgium, and so they released them almost immediately. The matter of compensation is a problem and not only for these defendants but for all defendants who are in a similar situation. Ghazi: Now, we come to the delisting of PKK from the European Union’s terror list. We know about the decision of the Court of Justice; in your opinion as a lawyer and an expert on this matter, how does the process work in this phase? I mean how would a [case of] delisting proceed [legally]? Fermon: For purely technical reasons, the last decision to include the PKK in terror lists cannot be reflected in the court’s decision [retroactively]. And that is due purely to procedural and technical matters. The decision to list an organization or individual has to be renewed every six months; that is the rule. So every six months the council has to renew [the PKK’s] inclusion in the list. Ghazi: Is there a special authority inside the council that decides on such cases, and how would it function? Fermon: I could tell you an anecdote. Formally, it is the council of ministers [that decides on these matters]. Formally it is a matter of the decision of the council of [EU] ministers. In fact, of course, the cases are prepared by secret services and also by a special committee called the COREPER. COREPER is the Committee of Permanent representatives, which actually means the [assembly of] state ambassadors to the European Union, and they prepare the case for a decision. Within COREPER there is a special committee that establishes the terror lists. I was previously involved in a case against the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Maria Sison, who was also listed. And in that case, COREPER had taken an obviously unlawful decision. The case prepared by COREPER was based on a false pretext attributed to a Dutch court, whilst the Dutch court had said nothing of the sort. And it was not a matter of interpretation; it was black and white. One day I was sitting in a seminar next to one of the members of this committee [that furnishes cases for listing decisions]. It was a closed seminar and we could speak openly. I told him that I did not understand him and that their decision was wrong because we had provided them with all the evidence. Had he seen the materials? He said yes, we saw the materials, of course, we saw your letters. I said but what is your response to [the evidence] then, because you never responded to us. He said: We know that you are right, but you also know that it does not work this way! Each country brings its own list [to the committee], and there we do not discuss the list of other countries. Because if we start discussing the list of another country, that country starts discussing our lists! So actually the only thing we can do is to staple together the lists that all the parties bring with them! Unless, of course, if there is a very very big political problem, then we have a discussion about it. As for the rest, our only role is to bind together the lists that the national authorities provide to us. On the national level, of course, these proposed lists are prepared by political authorities and their secret services, and so that is the way it works. And so even an obviously wrong statement of reasons still passes as true in our committee, because nobody wants to discuss anybody else’s lists. In the case now before the European Court of Justice in relation to PKK, the case was opened in 2014. And ever since, every time, every new decision [regarding the terror list] that came every six months was included in the proceedings. But this renewal continues for as long as the court is in session. However, between the time of the [concluding] procedures in the court and the final decision, there was another instance of inclusion in the terror list, which for procedural reasons could not be included in the final decision of the court. So all the similar decisions [for the inclusion of PKK in the list] between 2014 and 2017 were annulled because the court declared that the statements of the reason given by the council of ministers [with respect to the inclusions] were not adequate. That their statements did not [provide sufficient reason to] label PKK a terrorist organization. Regardless, [the court’s decision does not extend] to the council's last statement of reasons, even if this last statement is based on the previous statements. They are all identical indeed. But for technical reasons, this last statement could not be annulled. Furthermore, and as the Council of the European Union has done so in previous cases, as soon as the previous series of statements were [annulled by the court] they put PKK right back on the list, based on another statement of reasons that was identical to the previous ones [that were found to be either unlawful or unsound by the court]. This is an [EU] practice we have seen before. They have done it before with other organizations and individuals that for political reasons they want to keep on their lists; they simply ignore the decision of the court and relist the person or the organization on the same old grounds and with the same statement of reasons. The listed persons or organizations have therefore no other choice but to start a new case. And that is actually what has been done [in PKK’s case], as a new case was initiated and is now pending. But I am quite confident that it will be very difficult for the court to completely change its opinion, because they declared that the [terror list’s] statement of reasons was no good, and there is absolutely no reason why the same statement of reason would suddenly become ‘sufficient’. But there is another aspect [to the new case]: the council of ministers also appealed the decision, so the case is pending on the appeal level as well, and I do not know for how long. The European Court of Justice works its cases (I would say) very thoroughly, which means that it will take a lot of time before another decision is given, so I do not know when a new decision will come. But I am very confident that the decision of the court of first instance will be the same as the previous one because there is no reason to depart from the previous point of view. Ghazi: In such cases, we know in the United States lobbying has some kind of effect. For instance, there was an Iranian organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which was delisted from the list of proscribed organizations in the US. Is there a possibility of lobbying at the European level? Fermon: Let us say that public opinion plays a role, of course, that is clear. On the Iranian Mujahedin, to be honest, I think what played more of a role than lobbying was the specific situation in Iraq at that time. It served the US and UK interests to de-list the Mujahedin. So I think it was more of a policy decision than a result of lobbying. That might be different for PKK because I am not sure that the US has the same stance toward the PKK as it did with respect to the Mujahedin. But public opinion does play a role, so f you can sway the public opinion for or against this organization, that is a different matter altogether. Then, of course, [lobbying] can play a part in how politicians decide on the list. Ghazi: In conclusion, do you have any comments?
Fermon: Well, I think this decision actually provides a new array of opportunities for Kurdish organizations, especially those in Belgium at this point. Kurds should not be afraid anymore of expressing themselves freely on the subject of the conflict with the Turkish state; what they say cannot be considered anymore as propaganda for a terrorist organization. Kurds can organize freely, of course, within the boundaries of the law, but up until now any kind of activity in favor of the Kurds risked criminalization. I think that is finished and this opens the door to new opportunities. The second point concerns an array of new opportunities for European countries. As I have said many times before, whereas terrorism has to be fought conflicts should be solved. This means that there is an opportunity here to change the paradigm and approach the situation [in Turkey] as a conflict. States normally present their good services [in cases of domestic conflicts], which is, of course, an altogether different matter from fighting terrorism. The court’s final decision, stating that this is a case of conflict and not terrorism, offers a fantastic opportunity to Belgian authorities as well as those in other European countries to halt their criminalization policies, approach [the PKK-Turkey case] as a domestic conflict, and deploy the diplomatic means, all in order to help the parties involved in the conflict to start a dialogue and find a political solution. So from that point of view, I think this decision could have very positive consequences, including in the political field if it is taken seriously and with sufficient consideration.
(This is a revised and edited transcription of an interview conducted for the Rawej program on Kurdish satellite TV outlet Sterk. The interview was recorded on February 7, 2020, and was broadcast on Sunday, February 16, 2020)