Kurdish leader Demirtaş and others remain imprisoned as court delays verdict in Kobani trial

Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) hold a picture of jailed former party leader Selahattin Demirtas as they attend a 'Peace and Justice' rally in Istanbul on February 3, 2019. Thousands of protesters on February 3 joined a rally in Istanbul called by a pro-Kurdish party to show support for hunger strikes against prison conditions of Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)

A Turkish court on Tuesday postponed the verdict in the long-running Kobani trial and ruled to continue the detention of 18 people, including Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, Turkish Minute reported on Wednesday.

Demirtaş is among 108 former pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) politicians who are standing trial in the case. The HDP is the predecessor of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party).

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Özgür Özel has assigned a delegation to attend the trial.

The prosecution maintained its stance to keep all defendants in prison, citing “substantial evidence pointing to a reasonable suspicion of guilt” and a possible flight risk.

The Ankara 22nd High Criminal Court made the decision during the 82nd hearing of the trial, which involves 108 defendants and is about deadly protests in 2014, postponing its verdict, originally expected for today.

The court had previously indicated that a verdict could be reached in today’s session; however, citing the extensive size of the case file and the need to finalize the hearing transcripts as reasons for the delay, postponed the verdict

The trial has lasted almost three years. The next hearing is scheduled for May 16.

The Kobani trial centers on the events of October 6-8, 2014, when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) laid siege to the Syrian town of Kobani. Protests broke out across Turkey, particularly in the southeastern provinces, which are predominantly Kurdish. The Turkish government accuses the leaders of the HDP of instigating the protests, which claimed 37 lives.

Demirtaş and other defendants have always denied the accusations and argued that their calls for solidarity with Kobani were democratic and within the framework of freedom of expression.

During today’s hearing, Alp Altınörs, one of the defendants, criticized the lengthy court proceedings and stated, “I have been imprisoned for four years because of a tweet that was legitimate, legal and democratic. It was a call against ISIS terrorism.” Other defendants echoed this sentiment and emphasized the political undertones of the trial.

Former HDP co-chair Demirtaş, who was connected via video link from prison, once again called for the freedom of all his colleagues and emphasized the political nature of the proceedings against them.

The trial has significant political implications, especially for the HDP, which has been under intense pressure by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government. The government’s stance has hardened following the failure of peace talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2015, leading to a more nationalist and anti-Kurdish policy.

The ongoing detentions and trial have drawn significant attention and criticism from both local and international observers, who argue that the case is politically motivated and part of an ongoing government crackdown on Kurdish politicians.

Before the trial, there was speculation that the government’s attitude towards political prisoners could change for the better and lead to the release of figures such as Demirtaş and imprisoned philanthropist Osman Kavala, which did not materialize with the decision to keep all defendants in the Kobani trial in detention.

Demirtaş has been jailed since November 2016 on bogus terrorism-related charges and not released from prison despite rulings from European Court of Human Rights.

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