Selahattin Demirtaş, the imprisoned former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), began delivering his defense in court on Wednesday, saying the case against him is politically motivated and should be dropped.
Demirtaş, who is being tried on “terrorism” charges, appeared before a judge for the first time in 15 months at the Ankara 19th Criminal Court.
Foreign diplomats and human rights group representatives, including German Ambassador to Turkey Martin Edelman and a number of envoys from other countries, were not allowed to enter the courtroom to follow the proceedings, according to a tweet from the German Embassy. The number of observers was limited to 20.
“Parliament is scared, the judiciary needs to be brave,” Demirtaş said in his opening remarks and accused the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of deliberately trying to criminalize the HDP.
“They needed to criminalize the HDP in order to make their amendments to the constitution. Within one-and-a-half years they have arrested around 3,000 HDP officials. Did the HDP suddenly decide to start committing crimes, or did the judiciary all of a sudden make a decision about the HDP?” he said.
Demirtaş also said there was a coordinated campaign against him in the Turkish media. “If this number of news items had said Demirtaş was an alien, everyone would have believed that I was an alien,” he said.
Referring to previous jailed political leaders in Turkey’s history, Demirtaş stated that “they were all put on trial in political courts for political motives. Those courts could in no way act independently. In fact, to prevent them from acting independently individuals with close ties to the government were appointed to the courts. And now, as the deputies of another political party, we are on trial under state of emergency conditions.”
Demirtaş told the court that his arrest was linked to President Erdoğan’s push to amend the constitution to create an executive presidency. As a deputy with parliamentary immunity, he should not have been on trial, he added.
The immunity from prosecution for lawmakers was lifted after a vote in May 2016, and Demirtaş was arrested in November 2016. Demirtaş has been jailed for 15 months and faces up to 142 years in prison.
Meanwhile, former HDP co-chair Serpil Kemalbay, who was detained in Ankara on Tuesday for allegedly disseminating terrorist propaganda during a party congress on Sunday, is reportedly being held in a cell in the counterterrorism unit of the police department and announced through her lawyers that she had started a hunger strike to protest her illegal detention.
According a report by the pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency (ANF), Kemalbay sent a message through her lawyers and stated that “We will build together a free, equal and democratic society where people do not serve others as slaves. We will struggle together and we will build a peaceful life together. We will keep the struggle going inside and outside prison. We will triumph, women will triumph, our people will triumph. With my sincerest love and greetings.”
HDP’s newly elected co-chair Pervin Buldan and HDP deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder on Monday faced investigation and charges for allegedly disseminating terrorist propaganda at the party congress on Sunday.
A Turkish court also ordered the arrest of Hazal Aras, co-mayor of the Diyadin district of Ağrı province. Aras was detained by police on Feb. 9 and on Wednesday appeared before the court, which ordered her arrest on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization.” Hazal had been arrested by Turkish authorities back in 2016 and released from prison in June 2017.
Turkey has stepped up its crackdown on Kurdish politicians since 2016. Trustees have been appointed to dozens of municipalities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast, while hundreds of local Kurdish politicians have been arrested on terror charges.
Nine HDP deputies including the party’s former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ are still in prison. Moreover, a total of 27 HDP deputies have been detained and released by the Turkish government over alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
(Stockholm Center for Freedom [SCF] with Turkish Minute)