Demirtaş sentenced to prison for insulting Turkish president

A court on Monday sentenced Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş to three years, six months in prison for insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his lawyer Ramazan Demir said.

Demirtaş, former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has been in pretrial detention since November 2016 on politically motivated charges in spite of two binding rulings in favor of his release by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Turkish government still refuses to release Demirtaş, and a Turkish court on January 7 accepted a new indictment against him and 107 others calling for life sentences in relation to the Kobani protests of 2014.

Demir tweeted that Monday’s sentence was one of the longest given on the charge of insulting the president, which is a crime in Turkey.

Demirtas had criticized Erdoğan in a speech in December 2015, saying he had “flitted from corridor to corridor” hoping to get a picture taken with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Those comments came after Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.

Demirtaş said his remarks were aimed at criticizing the government and not the president during his court appearance via SEGBIS, a court-to-prison teleconferencing system on Monday, Turkish media reported.

 

The sentence against Demirtas came less than a week after a top public prosecutor filed a lawsuit demanding the closure of the HDP, the third largest group in the Turkish parliament. The move followed months of intensified calls from Erdogan’s nationalist allies for the HDP to be shut down for alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The HDP denies the charges and has called the move a “political coup.”

Speaking to AFP from jail on Sunday, Demirtaş said Erdoğan is seeking to ensure victory in the next election by “illegally” trying to ban the HDP.

“The main reason they are trying to shut down the HDP is to let the People’s Alliance win the upcoming election,” scheduled for 2023, Demirtaş said in a written response to questions from AFP. “I hope the Constitutional Court will not give credence to this irrational behavior and will reject the case.”

In December the ECtHR found Turkey guilty of committing violations on five counts including the rights to freedom of expression and liberty and the right to free and fair elections as well as misuse of limitations on rights in the European Convention on Human Rights. The court’s ruling was made by its Grand Chamber following appeals from both Turkey and Demirtaş to the court’s original ruling in November 2018.

The ECtHR has also asked Turkey to provide its defense for the pre-trial detention of Demirtaş in connection to street protests in the country’s Southeast in 2014 that claimed the lives of 37 people.

Demirtaş had called for street protests in support of Kurdish fighters in the Syrian town of Kobani while accusing Ankara of failing to provide adequate help to Kobani and of supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which had laid siege to the town.

Demirtaş was an outspoken critic of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, President Erdoğan, before he was jailed. He ran in the presidential elections of 2014 and 2018 as a rival to Erdoğan. Demirtaş conducted his election campaign from jail for the 2018 election.

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