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In Turkey, hundreds of minors imprisoned on 'terrorism' charges

The 2006 antiterror law makes it a crime to take part in demonstrations supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

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Few would peg Hebun Akkaya, a 17-year-old with a high, nasal voice and polite manner, as a criminal convicted of supporting a terrorist organization.

But the criminal court here in Diyarbakir did. The crime: protesting the prison conditions of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Designated a terrorist organization by the European Union and United States, the PKK enjoys grass-roots support among citizens here in Turkey's predominately Kurdish southeast.

"I never thought I could go to prison for throwing a stone," says Hebun, who spent 10 months in an adult prison awaiting his initial trial. "I become really angry when I think that just for throwing a stone they were asking to put me away for 28 years. It's unjust." Now out on bail pending an appeal, he faces an amended sentence of seven years.

Hebun is one of hundreds of minors, some as young as 13, who have been arrested and jailed in Turkey over the past few years under strict new antiterrorism laws that allow for juveniles to be tried as adults and even be accused of "committing crimes in the name of a terrorist organization" for participating in demonstrations. Critics and rights defenders say the amended antiterrorism laws are deeply flawed and also violate international conventions on the detention of children.

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