Appeals court in SE Turkey upholds sentences of 58 Kurdish politicians accused of ‘terrorism’

An appeals court in the southeast Turkish province of Gaziantep has upheld prison sentences previously handed down to 58 Kurdish politicians, including former executives of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Democratic Regions’ Party (DBP) on terrorism-related charges, the Artı Gerçek news website reported on Wednesday.

The politicians were accused of membership in a terrorist group, specifically the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), on account of their attendance at meetings and funerals, their financial support for prisoners and their involvement with civil society organizations.

Bahri Oğuz, one of the defense lawyers and a local executive of the Human Rights Association (İHD), told Artı Gerçek that the ruling amounted to a blanket criminalization of an entire political party.

“The evidence presented to justify the charges was not limited to the party’s political activities since they extend to routine cultural and social activities as well,” Oğuz said. “Anyone who has been in contact with the party has been penalized.”

The accusations even included the defendants’ participation in Newroz, a Kurdish folk festival that celebrates the arrival of the spring.

Oğuz criticized the verdict as an attempt to wipe out pro-Kurdish politics in an entire province and another example of the judiciary’s weaponization for political ends.

Dilan Coşkun, another defense lawyer, pointed out that the indictment relied heavily on the defendants’ identities and the prosecution’s considerations instead of substantial evidence and mentioned the PKK very few times because of its failure to establish concrete links with the militant group and the defendants’ actions.

The PKK is an armed separatist group designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

The Kurdish political movement has been in the crosshairs of the government and the judicial authorities since the breakdown in mid-2015 of peace talks between the PKK and the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Under threat of shutdown by the authorities, the HDP was recently rebranded as the Peoples’ Democracy and Equality (DEM) Party. The party’s former co-chairs, Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, have been imprisoned since late 2016 on a number of terrorism-related charges.

Turkey has famously defied a European Court of Human Rights order for Demirtaş’s release.

Turkey’s anti-terror laws are frequently criticized by human rights groups and international organizations for being overly broad and ambiguous, allowing too much room for interpretation.

The country’s massive purges in the aftermath of a failed military coup in mid-2016 included the summary removal of more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors immediately after the failed coup which, according to many international observers, had a chilling effect on the legal professionals who continued to work in the judiciary.

Erdoğan’s government has also been accused of replacing the purged judicial members with young and inexperienced judges and prosecutors who have close links to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In a development that confirmed the erosion of the Turkish judiciary, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the 2023 Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in late October, dropping one place in comparison to the previous year.

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