Kurdish leader Demirtas sentenced to 42 years over 2014 unrest

Kurdish leader Demirtas sentenced to 42 years over 2014 unrest
Turkey has refused to comply with a European Court of Human Rights ruling for the release of Selahattin Demirtas. / VoA
By bne IntelliNews May 16, 2024

Selahattin Demirtas, former leader of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, was on May 16 sentenced by a Turkish court to 42 years in prison for his alleged role in deadly protests in 2014 that were sparked by an Islamic State attack on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

As the chief judge began to read the verdict, defence lawyers and observers banged on tables and chanted in Kurdish, "Long live the resistance of the HDP" and "Long live the resistance of Kobani," news agencies reported.

Another leading pro-Kurdish politician, Figen Yuksekdag, was sentenced to just over 30 years in the courtroom set up at a prison complex on the outskirts of Turkey’s capital Ankara. Many other senior HDP figures were also convicted, with 108 defendants in all charged with 29 offences, including murder and harming the unity of the Turkish state. At least 10 defendants were acquitted. The politicians are expected to appeal the verdicts.

Demirtas, a 51-year-old human rights lawyer, has been in jail since November 2016 on terrorism-related charges and remains one of Turkey's most influential political figures.

Turkey has failed to comply with European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings calling for the immediate release of detainees including Demirtas and businessman philanthropist Osman Kavala. In April, however, the Committee of Ministers of Europe’s top human rights body, the Council of Europe (CoE), made it clear that despite infringement proceedings initiated against Ankara, it has no plans to impose sanctions on Turkey for non-compliance with ECtHR rulings assessed to date.

In the trial, Demirtas and Yuksekdag were among 18 defendants already in jail. In testimony given in 2023, Demirtas, who has previously challenged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the presidency from his jail cell, hit out at the case as a "revenge" trial, saying: "There's no single [piece of] evidence about me. This is a case of political revenge, we were not legally arrested, we are all political hostages."

Speaking outside the courthouse after the trial, the co-chairs of DEM, the pro-Kurdish party that has succeeded the HDP, Tulay Hatimogullari and Tuncer Bakirhan, denounced the verdicts as a "black stain" on Turkey's judicial record, and an attempt at "erasing" Kurdish politicians, Reuters reported.

"Today, at the Sincan courthouse, we witnessed a massacre of the law together," Hatimogullari was reported as saying, adding that the verdicts amounted to a "political coup".

"There is no such thing as a judiciary remaining in Turkey anymore," she added. "The decision taken by the court today has once again shown us that they side with ISIS [Islamic State] and fascism. This verdict is null and void."

The deadly riots in Turkey in October 2014 were said by officials to be the result of statements made by pro-Kurdish leaders in Turkey who were frustrated by what they perceived to be Turkish support for Islamic State group militants who were besieging the Syrian border town of Kobani.

Three days of clashes resulted in 37 deaths and hundreds of injuries, including to police officers. The HDP blamed Turkish police for causing the deaths.

Ankara accuses the HDP of having ties to the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU. The HDP denies any links to terrorism.

Confronted by possible state moves to close it down, the HDP last year relaunched as the Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (DEM). It is the third largest party in Turkey’s parliament.