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Court refuses to release former Diyarbakır mayor from prison during retrial

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A high criminal court in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır has refused to release from prison the city’s former mayor, who is being retried after his conviction on terrorism-related charges, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Selçuk Mızraklı, a medical doctor by profession who was elected as the city’s co-mayor in the March 2019 local elections from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was removed from office by the Interior Ministry in August 2019 and arrested in October of the same year on charges of membership in a terrorist organization and disseminating terrorist propaganda.

He was subsequently tried by the Diyarbakır 9th High Criminal Court and convicted of membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and handed down a prison sentence of more than nine years.

The PKK has been leading an armed insurgency against Turkey’s security forces since the ’80s in a campaign that has claimed the lives of some 40,000 people. The group is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

The 16th Criminal Chamber of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals in December 2022 had overturned Mızraklı’s conviction on the grounds that the charges against the politician had not been sufficiently investigated, ordering a retrial.

Mızraklı, who shares a prison cell with Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş in northwestern Turkey’s Edirne Prison, attended his retrial at the Diyarbakır 9th High Criminal Court via the Voice and Image System (SEGBİS). The court denied his lawyers’ request that Mızraklı be released during the retrial, stating that judicial supervision measures would be insufficient if he were freed.

In his defense, Mızraklı called the trial not a legal proceeding but rather a political conspiracy. He said he has been kept in prison for four years not based on evidence but on slander.

The trial was adjourned until Sept. 11.

Mızraklı was elected co-mayor of Diyarbakır in the local elections of March 2019, with 62.93 percent of the vote. The HDP won 65 municipalities in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions in the elections. But due to the decisions of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) in six cases and the Interior Ministry, more than 50 have been removed from office or not allowed to assume office.

In an opinion published on June 19, 2020, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe (CoE) found the YSK decisions to be inconsistent with international norms and standards and called for their reversal. Similarly, the commission also called for the repeal of the Ministry of Interior’s decisions to replace elected mayors with government officials because “[they] undermine the very nature of local self-government.”

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