A Belgian court has controversially ruled that the recruitment activities of the members of the PKK terrorist organization in the country were within the scope of an armed struggle, rather than considering them terror crimes, despite recognition of the group as a terror organization by the European Union, Turkey and the United States.
According to information released by Belgian media on Thursday, the court in Brussels said that the charges of abduction of minors, deprivation of liberty and death threats on 36 PKK-linked suspects cannot be considered as terror crimes since the PKK's activities were an "armed struggle" and cannot be considered within the scope of terrorism.
In a statement released early Friday, Turkey's Foreign Ministry condemned the Belgian court's ruling.
"We see this decision as the indicator of an unprincipled attitude and the mindset which has allowed the PKK terrorist organization to openly carry out activities until today, and condemn it" the foreign ministry said.
It was also noted that Turkey expects Belgian justice to take steps to immediately fix the 'grave mistake.'
The suspects, including two high-rank executives of the PKK in Europe - Remzi Kartal and Zübeyir Aydar - will continue to be tried on the mentioned charges. PKK members are being charged with abducting minors from their families in Belgium and other western European countries and giving them training in PKK camps in Belgium, Greece and Iraq. The charges also include the use of violence, racketeering, financing the PKK, using a radio station in the town of Denderleeuw as a PKK contact bureau and spreading the terrorist organization's propaganda. In March 2010, Belgian police launched an investigation into the PKK and raided 18 houses in several provinces. During the operations, Kartal and Aydar were arrested, but then were released by the court pending trial. The investigation on the charges was initiated in 2006 and a lawsuit was launched in October 2015.
Although the federal prosecutor's office has the right to object the ruling, the court's ruling is expected to sour relations between Brussels and Ankara. Belgium once again has turned a blind eye to PKK terrorist activities in the country, despite EU recognition of the group as a terror organization being binding for Belgian authorities.
Speaking to Daily Sabah on the court's decision, former member of the European Parliament and Daily Sabah columnist Ozan Ceyhun said that the ruling was a scandal against humanity and that he questioned the judges' sanity.
"This decision should become a lesson for the Belgian government. By turning a blind eye to the PKK, they ultimately become a reason for their justice system to make such decisions. When the judges sober up, maybe they will realize what they have done," Ceyhun added.
Belgium has come under fire from Turkish authorities before as well for their tolerance of PKK demonstrations in the country, such as setting up a tent in downtown Brussels with an exhibition of pro-PKK propaganda and allowing the residence of suspected terrorists.
The Belgian government allowed supporters of the PKK to pitch tents before the Turkey-EU summit in Brussels in March, a move that had caused a diplomatic row between Brussels and Ankara. Turkey's foreign ministry had summoned Belgium's ambassador to Ankara to the ministry to protest the decision and swiftly remove the tent.
In August, a pro-PKK rally to mark the anniversary of the group's first attack against the Turkish state in 1984 was held in Brussels.
Fehriye Erdal, a member of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party Front (DHKP-C), who was involved in the killing of a prominent Turkish businessman in 1996, had fled to Belgium after the murder and was not extradited to Turkey despite Ankara's demands. The country also does not recognize her as a terrorist and describes her as a "gang member."
Belgium, similar to Germany, Austria, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Greece, has been a safe haven for the PKK and DHKP-C, which have been very active in the country.
The last anti-terror operation by Belgian security forces against the PKK took place in 2010.
Since the PKK – also listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the EU – resumed its 30-year armed campaign in late July, hundreds of members of the security forces and civilians have been killed.
Though the PKK is on the EU's official terrorist organization list, Turkey has complained of member states' indifference to the terrorist group. Ankara argues that although in rhetoric EU leaders condemn PKK terror, the activities of the group in the EU countries contradict the EU authorities' stances.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly said that the Western countries pick-and-choose between terror groups. Erdoğan has said previously that when the PKK carries out attacks in Turkey, the Turkish nation does receive the same empathy, compared to the attacks against the West carried out by Daesh terrorist group.