Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed co-chair of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) appeared before court in İstanbul for the first time on Friday, 14 months after his detention.
Demirtaş faces possibly decades in jail on a string of terrorism-related charges and has been held in detention since parliament lifted his immunity from prosecution and he was then arrested on Nov 4, 2016. Demirtaş, a lawyer, has so far refused to participate in court hearings via video link, saying that would violate his right to a fair trial.
Giving his first statement after 14 months behind bars, Demirtaş stressed the judicial immunity granted to him by his status as a deputy, stating that the legislative processes for these 20 cases had not been implemented at the same time.
“I would like to ask, do I, or don’t I have parliamentary immunity at the present moment?” HDP’s Twitter account quoted Demirtaş as asking the İstanbul court. “Of course I do, at least as much as Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. For instance, if I were to insult this court now, all you can do is to prepare proceedings and send it to parliament.”
The hearing on Friday was related to a speech Demirtaş made in December 24, 2015, in which prosecutors say he insulted Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If he is found guilty of this charge, Demirtaş faces four years in jail.
Demanding the case be referred to the Constitutional Court, Demirtaş argued that the cases were a violation of the legislative immunity granted to him through his lawmaker status.
Security reasons had until now been cited as the reason for not bringing Demirtaş, who is currently in prison in the northwestern province of Edirne, and over 90 hearings have been held in cases against him in his absence, to hearings in İstanbul, Ankara or Diyarbakır. Demirtaş had also refused to connect to the courtroom via SEGBİS, an audiovisual system.
Demirtaş also noted that he was not ordered to be arrested as part of this particular case. “I had the chance to appear before the judge for the first time in 14 months for more than 20 legal suits brought against me. Some 97 hearings had been held about me. All of those hearings were either held in my absence or SEGBİS was imposed upon me,” said Demirtaş in the courtroom.
“In order for a lawmaker to be tried, his or her parliamentary immunity must be lifted at the same time. If our immunity is lifted without a parliamentary decision, then it is not legitimate,” he added. The court decided to adjourn the case to May 17, 2018 in order to evaluate the demands.
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.