The wife of the still-jailed Kurkish leader Selahattin Demirtas has received a visit from the Turkey rapporteur of the European Parliament.
Dutch politician and MEP Kati Piri, often referred to as an enemy of Turkey by pro-government dailies in the country given her comments on alleged human rights violations by the Erdogan administration, on October 16 visited Basak Demirtas at the Demirtas’ home in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey. Detailing her latest trip to Turkey on her Twitter account, Piri said she had also met with political party representatives in the Turkish parliament, the chairman of Turkey’s Inquiry Commission, civil society representatives and EU ambassadors “amid the difficult political situation in the country”.
Piri told officials of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), prominent for representing the interests of the Kurdish minority in southeastern Turkey, that she applied to local officials to visit Selahattin Demirtas—who from his cell contested the late June presidential election in Turkey as the HDP candidate—in jail but did not receive any response, BBC Turkce reported citing HDP sources.
She did, however, have meetings with main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Iyi (“Good”) Party leader Meral Aksener, EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Commission chairman and Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP Ismail Emrah Karayel and HDP chairwoman Pervin Buldan in Ankara.
Dailies that back Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP criticised Kilicdaroglu for meeting with Piri—a member of the Dutch Labour Party, part of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament—but they did not mention Piri’s meeting with Karayel. One such daily, Yeni Safak, reported that Piri had come to Turkey as an attempt at directing opposition alliance talks in advance of the local elections expected in March 2019. Piri responded on Twitter that she was “very sad at how certain Turkish media are portraying my visit… far from reality”.
Piri is a vocal critic of the Turkish executive presidency adopted after the official narrow result of a 2017 referendum. Amounting in some critics’ eyes to near-one-man-rule for Erdogan, it has done away with the post of prime minister, awarded the president sweeping powers and cut back the role of parliament. Turkey commenced its new era as a presidential republic with an executive president after Erdogan was re-elected on June 24. “The last obstacle for the introduction of a highly undemocratic presidential system has now been removed. A system which is absolutely incompatible with EU accession talks,” Piri remarked after Erdogan’s triumph.
Erdogan, beset by financial turmoil in Turkey and badly in need of friends who will help him out on the economic front, has lately trod a line between trying to mend relations with EU member states including Germany to get the accession process back on track and hitting out at the European bloc for prejudice against Muslims that he says might force Ankara to call a referendum on whether Turkey should make a ‘Trexit’ from its European Union application.
“Let’s race like men”
Selahattin Demirtas, a former co-leader of the HDP, was visited by Muharrem Ince, the presidential candidate of the CHP, during the election campaign. Erdogan responded by claiming Ince was trying to “steal” votes from among Turkey’s Kurdish community by visiting Demirtas. Ince called on Erdogan to release Demirtas, saying: “The HDP are also children of this nation, [and your party] AKP are also children of this country... Don’t keep Demirtas in jail. Come, let’s race like men.”
Erdogan describes Demirtas as a terrorist responsible for the deaths of Kurdish civilians during unrest that took place three years ago. He has also previously accused the recently freed US pastor Andrew Brunson of being an agent who helped the so-called Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO) prior to its failed July 2016 coup attempt and of having links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was also among foreign citizens arrested for allegedly disseminating propaganda backing the PKK but he was later released.
After the coup attempt, Turkey endured a two-year-long state of emergency during which tens of thousands of people were detained in a massive crackdown and tens of thousands more were dismissed from their state jobs. During that period, Turkey became the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. Though the emergency regime is over, legislative changes mean that even local officials have exceptional powers to detain people and there are still regular local reports of more detentions taking place.
Turkish citizens accused of terrorist propaganda are not as lucky as citizens of Erdogan’s Western allies, such as Brunson, who hails from North Carolina. Turkey insisted there was no political interference in the eventual release of Brunson, sought for several months by Donald Trump, but his case thoroughly revealed the actual situation when it comes to the Turkish judiciary.
“Warm welcome by @Basak__Demirtas at her house in #Diyarbakir. Good meeting with family and lawyers who are awaiting an urgent decision by European Court of Human Rights. The European Parliament will continue to call for release of @hdpdemirtas!” Piri said in a tweet in which she shared a photo showing her with Basak Demirtas and Selahattin Demirtas’ lawyer.
Piri and Demirtas are pictured wearing t-shirts printed with a picture painted by Selahattin Demirtas in jail. Basak Demirtas gave her one of the t-shirts as a gift, Piri told reporters.
In September, Selahattin Demirtas was nominated for the Prix Medicis, a French literary award given each year in November, in the category of foreign authors who have written their story in jail. His entry is entitled “Seher” (Dawn). He has also written Anatolian folk musical compositions.
Demirtas has been held in jail pending trial since November 2016 on charges of “managing a terrorist organisation”, “making terrorist propaganda”, “inciting people to violence and hatred” and “praising crime and the criminal”. The prosecutors are demanding a 142-year jail sentence.
“Since the verdict that you will give is obvious, I do not demand a release,” Demirtas said at the latest court hearing held on October 4, according to Bianet.
“Nobody should have to say the courts are under [political] pressure. It’s shameful!” Demirtas also reportedly said, adding: “I believe the days in which fair trials are conducted will come,” according to Stockholm Center for Freedom.
The next hearing will be held from December 12-14.
The HDP, the main Kurdish legal political movement, attracted its all-time record best 13.1% of the vote in the June 2015 general election, but it has been under pressure from both sides since a two-year ceasefire between the PKK and the government ended in July 2015. In the snap parliamentary election this year, it placed third with 11.7%, gaining 67 seats in parliament.
Thousands of HDP members, including former co-leaders, MPs and mayors, are currently in jail.
HDP’s Hakkari MP Leyla Guven became the only incumbent MP still left in jail after a Turkish court on September 20 ordered the release of CHP deputy Enis Berberoglu who was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for disclosing government secrets in 2017.
The government sees the HPD as the political arm of the PKK, which has been fighting against the state since the mid-1980s. The PKK is also listed as a terrorist organisation by the US and the EU. The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people. Violence in the country’s southeast flared and clashes between security forces and the PKK intensified after the collapse of the ceasefire. The government refuses to return to negotiations, vowing to eliminate all PKK militants.
The PKK detonated an explosive device on a road in southeast Turkey, killing at least seven soldiers on October 4, its deadliest attack in more than a year.