Jailed Kurdish leaders mark 5 years behind bars on terrorism charges

Former co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ on Thursday passed the five-year mark behind bars, Turkish Minute reported.

Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ were jailed on Nov. 4, 2016 on terrorism-related charges. The HDP on Thursday described in a tweet the former co-chairs’ arrest as “a coup” that targeted the party.

“Our former co-chairs Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ and elected officials have been imprisoned since 2016. Those who kidnapped our friends are now reaching the point of exhaustion. We will win! The people will win!” they added, referring to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Başak Demirtaş, the wife of Selahattin Demirtaş, also released a video on social media, giving messages of hope.

“Exactly five years have passed since Selahattin and his friends were taken out of their homes, unlawfully. We’re entering the sixth year. … Despite everything, we have never lost hope over the last five years. Neither our will nor our faith was broken. We know that justice, freedom and equality aren’t far away,” she said in a video released on Twitter on Thursday.

The Kurdish leader has remained in prison for five years despite two European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings in 2018 and 2020 that said he was imprisoned for “political” reasons and not for “legal” reasons, ordering his “immediate release.” The Council of Europe also called on Turkey to immediately release the Kurdish politician on Sept. 17, 2021.

Although the ECtHR rulings are legally binding, there have been many instances in which Turkey has not implemented them. Erdoğan has dismissed both rulings on Demirtaş, accusing the court of applying a double standard and of hypocrisy.

Demirtaş also said they hadn’t been the only ones who had paid a price in past years, referring to Erdoğan and his government’s crackdown on dissidents, which culminated in the aftermath of a July 15, 2016 coup attempt.

“Think about it, the night when Selahattin and his friends were unlawfully imprisoned, the Turkish lira was worth around 3 to the dollar. Today, the dollar is around 9.5 lira due to the economic collapse caused by all the injustice in the country. So, just to silence the opposition, [they have caused] the value of our currency [to] have decreased by about 300 percent,” she said.

Demirtaş stated that the AKP government “completely destroyed the already incomplete peace and joy of the country and made people feel tired of their lives,” adding that they made three out of every four youngsters in Turkey think about leaving the country for a better future abroad.

Meanwhile, the Evrensel daily on Thursday reported that the pro-Kurdish HDP would submit its first written defense to the Constitutional Court on either Nov. 5 or 8 as part of a case launched after the court in June accepted an indictment seeking the closure of Turkey’s second-largest opposition party.

According to the report, the defense will be examined by Bekir Şahin, the chief public prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals who had submitted the 850-page indictment calling for the imposition of a political ban on 451 party members as well as a freeze on the party’s bank accounts. Şahin will then present his opinion within the coming month.

The HDP is accused in the indictment of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, and of posing a threat to the “indivisible integrity of the state.”

Erdoğan and his ruling AKP have long portrayed the HDP as the political front of the PKK. The party denies links to PKK and says it is working to achieve a peaceful solution to Turkey’s Kurdish issue, which refers to the demand for equal rights by the country’s Kurdish population and their struggle for recognition, and is only coming under attack because of its strong opposition to Erdoğan’s 19-year rule.

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