ISTANBUL - The Diyarbakır prosecutor charges six children for attacking police with stones and Molotov cocktails as they participated in street protests during the prime minister’s visit last month. Lawyers and experts have reacted strongly to the strict penalty and have called on legal authorities to observe the rights of young people

Six young people, all around the age of 15, are facing up to 23 years in prison for participating in the street demonstrations in Diyarbakır last month.

The demonstrations plagued Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to the southeastern province.

"The reports prepared show that the defendants knew the legal meaning and consequences of the crimes they committed and had the ability to control their actions," the southeastern province of Diyarbakır’s prosecutor stated in the indictment of the youths.

The prosecutor’s indictment led to strong criticism from lawyers and experts over the severity of the sentence.

"Imprisonment is the last remedy according to the Law to Protect Children, which was legislated in 2005. Before imprisonment the law asks for preventing children from crime and protecting their fundamental rights," said lawyer Türkay Asma, the former head of Ankara Bar’s Children’s Rights Center.

In terror cases, decisions are taken to give comfort to society, said Halil İbrahim Bahar from International Strategic Research Center, or USAK, adding that while judging children, it should be asked whether Turkey conforms to international agreements and criteria for child protection.

"It has been said that military means do not solve terror. They do not. Do we want to jail these children and maybe turn them into terrorists," Asma said.

The Diyarbakır Prosecutor’s Office, in the indictment it prepared for the six youths under arrest, listed the acts each of the accused perpetrated. One 13-year-old is accused of shouting illegal slogans and being part of a group that threw stones. Another was seen placing illegal posters on walls and participating in a group seen throwing Molotov cocktails at police officers. Two others are accused of acting as watchmen to a group that was burning tires, while the last two were seen erecting roadblocks and being part of a group that threw stones at police.

The accused participated in demonstrations instigated by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and threw stones at the police, according to the prosecutor’s office.

All six are charged with committing a crime for a terrorist group that they do not belong to. The charge carries a prison term of up to 10 years. Promoting terrorist propaganda carries a five-year prison term and the use of weapons or other tools during protests carries an eight-year prison term. Two of the children were also charged with destruction of state property, which carries a prison term of six years.

Four of the six children were sent to the prosecutor’s office of the Heavy Crimes Court with Special Quality as their age is above 15, while one of them stayed behind at the Heavy Crimes Court for Young Persons, according to information from lawyer Canan Atabay, a member of Diyabakır Bar’s Children’s Rights Center. The street protests had erupted over claims the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, was being mistreated in prison, which was denied by Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Diyarbakır on Oct. 20 saw some of the most violent street demonstrations in the region.

Protecting young people

The statement in the indictment that the youths were capable of understanding the meaning and legal consequences of their crimes was one of the main targets of criticism.

"When we look at those children we see that they usually belong to families who have nine or 10 children," Asma said. "They cannot go to school, are not getting an education. The state cannot provide them with means to evaluate their spare time or charge their families for neglect. Then when those children are directed by someone to throw stones, how right is it to charge them with 20 to 30 years in prison?"

Atabay said there were two kinds of reports about young people jointly taken into account in the courts. One is the social examination report and the other is the criminal liability report, which she always objects to in trials. The criminal liability report assesses whether young people are physically and psychologically capable of understanding the meaning and legal consequences of their actions. Atabay said this report, however, was far from scientific.

"In these reports, a forensic expert examines whether the child has any psychological or physical defects preventing him from understanding the meaning and results of a crime. And the majority of the reports say children are capable of that. I always object and ask the court to listen to the expert who submits that report as a witness and to ask him which criteria he depends on. But in practice, courts are always overruling my objections."