Tur­key be­gins trial of pro-Kur­dish leader

The Jakarta Post - - WORLD - Raziye Akkoc

The co-leader of Tur­key’s pro-Kur­dish op­po­si­tion party went on trial in Ankara on Thurs­day on charges of links to out­lawed Kur­dish mil­i­tants, af­ter more than a year behind bars in a case sup­port­ers say is po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, his party said.

Se­la­hat­tin Demir­tas, 44, cochair­man of the Peo­ples’ Demo­cratic Party (HDP) was de­tained in Novem­ber 2016 and charged with “man­ag­ing a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion” and “mak­ing pro­pa­ganda for a ter­ror­ist group.” He faces 142 years in prison if con­victed of links to the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK), an or­ga­ni­za­tion out­lawed by Tur­key and its Western al­lies. The party says the ac­cu­sa­tions are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

A dozen HDP MPs were de­tained at the same time as him but now nine re­main in prison in­clud­ing Demir­tas and for­mer co- chair Fi­gen Yuk­sekdag. Yuk­sekdag was stripped of her MP sta­tus in Fe­bru­ary and stepped down as co-party leader in May.

Demir­tas’ trial got un­der­way at Sin­can prison com­plex in Ankara prov­ince, an HDP of­fi­cial told AFP, adding Demir­tas was not present for the hear­ing. The MP is be­ing held in prison in the north­west­ern re­gion of Edirne. The party has pre­vi­ously ac­cused the jus­tice min­istry of pre­vent­ing any court ap­pear­ances by Demir­tas. It de­nounced a let­ter it claimed the jus­tice min­istry sent to all courts pros­e­cut­ing Demir­tas, telling them not to al­low the charis­matic leader to ap­pear in court.

Prior to his ar­rest, Demir­tas was con­sid­ered one of Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s ma­jor ri­vals, with or­a­tory skills match­ing the fire­brand Turk­ish head of state. He led his party to suc­cess in June 2015 polls and sur­passed the 10 per­cent thresh­old needed to en­ter par­lia­ment through win­ning not just sup­port from Kurds but also from lib­er­als and the Turk­ish left. He re­peated the suc­cess in snap polls of Novem­ber of that year but with fewer MPs.

The gov­ern­ment ac­cuses the party of be­ing a po­lit­i­cal front for the out­lawed PKK, a group black­listed by Tur­key and its Western al­lies. An­a­lysts say Demir­tas never suc­ceeded in fully dis­tanc­ing his party from the PKK, although the HDP de­nies the claims. It has rub­bished Ankara’s ac­cu­sa­tions against its co-leader, say­ing Demir­tas’ 501-page in­dict­ment was mostly made up of press re­leases, speeches, pan­els and sim­i­lar le­gal and po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties.

Demir­tas is en­snared in nearly 100 le­gal cases, but this is the most se­ri­ous and the one for which he has been held in prison for al­most 400 days. The party claimed the ac­cu­sa­tions were “pre­pared for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, not le­gal ones.”

Fur­ther in­fu­ri­at­ing the HDP, the com­puter that con­tained Demir­tas’ de­fense for the hear­ing was stolen in the south­east­ern prov­ince of Di­yarbakir.

While in prison, for­mer hu­man rights lawyer Demir­tas has writ­ten po­etry, pro­duced art­work, tweeted through a third party and even writ­ten a se­lec­tion of short sto­ries en­ti­tled Se­her (Dawn). Pub­lisher Dip­not told AFP it had printed 155,000 copies of the book, now in its 15th print run.

Since a failed coup in July 2016, tens of thou­sands of peo­ple have been ar­rested over al­leged links to the putsch.

AFP/Ilyas Aken­gin

Se­la­hat­tin Demir­tas

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