Turkey begins trial of pro-Kurdish leader
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.