Selahattin Demirtaş, the imprisoned former co-chair of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has started to deliver his defense on Wednesday at a Turkish court and said that he will continue the struggle no matter if he is in jail or outside. Demirtaş has also underlined that the case against him has a political motivation and it should be dropped.
Demirtas, who is on trial on “terrorism” charges by the Turkish government, has stood in front of a judge during a hearing of his trial at the Ankara 19th Criminal Court for the first time in 15 months and started to make his defense.
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 Sincan courtroom to follow the trial, according to the German embassy’s Twitter messages sent on Wednesday. The people were left out of the courtroom by judge’s decision and the number of spectators was limited to 20.
“Parliament is scared, the judiciary needs to be brave,” Demirtas said in his opening remarks and accused the Turkish government and Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of deliberately trying to criminalize HDP.
“They needed to criminalize the HDP in order to make their constitutional changes. Within one-and-a-half years they have judicially arrested around 3,000 HDP officials. Did the HDP suddenly decide to start committing crimes or did the judiciary all of a sudden take a decision about the HDP?” he said.
Demirtas also said that there was a coordinated campaign against him in the Turkish media. “If this number of news items had written that 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 at political courts because of political motives. Those courts could on no account act independently. As a matter of fact, to prevent them acting independently individuals with close ties to the government were appointed to the courts. And now, as deputies of another political party, we are on trial under the state of emergency conditions.”
Demirtaş told the court that his arrest was linked to President Erdoğan’s push to change the constitution to create an executive presidency. As a parliamentary deputy with legal immunity, he should not have been on trial, he added.
The constitutional immunity from prosecution for lawmakers was lifted after a vote in May 2016, and Demirtaş was arrested in November 2016. Demirtas has been jailed for 15 months and faces possible sentences of up to 142 years in jail.
Meanwhile, former HDP co-chair Serpil Kemalbay, who was detained in Ankara on Tuesday for allegedly “spreading terrorist propaganda” during a party congress, has reportedly been held in a cell in the anti-terror department of police and she announced through her lawyers that she started hunger strike against unlawful and illegal detention and investigation against her. The clothes sent to Kemalbay were reportedly not given to her.
According a report by pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency (ANF), HDP Party Assembly member Serpil 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 prisons. We will triumph, women will triumph, our peoples will triumph. With my sincerest love and greeting.”
HDP’s newly elected co-chair Pervin Buldan and HDP deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder have faced on Monday legal scrutiny and charges for allegedly making terrorist propaganda at the same event the previous day.
Also on Wednesday, a Turkish court ordered the arrest of Hazal Aras, co-mayor of Diyadin district of Ağrı province. Aras was detained by Turkish police on February 9, 2018 and she appeared in court in Agrı on Wednesday. The court ordered the arrest of Aras for “being a member of a terrorist organisation.” She was sent to Patnos Prison. Hazal was arrested by Turkish authorities back in 2016 and released from prison on 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 party’s co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ are still in prison. Moreover, a total of 27 HDP deputies were detained and released by Turkish government after Nov. 4, 2016 over alleged links to the outlawed PKK.