Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals declines to uphold 9-year sentence for former mayor

The 16th Criminal Chamber of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals has declined to uphold a prison sentence of nine years, four months and 15 days handed down by a lower court to Selçuk Mızraklı, the former co-mayor of Diyarbakır who was dismissed and replaced by a trustee, local media reported.

The court said the charges against Mızraklı had not been sufficiently investigated. Mızraklı was sentenced by the Diyarbakır 9th High Criminal Court in March 2020.

The appeals court, however, rejected Mızraklı’s request for release.

Mızraklı, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was removed from office by the Ministry of Interior on August 19, 2019 on the grounds of an ongoing “terrorism-related” investigation. He was subsequently tried and convicted of membership the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK has been leading an armed insurgency against Turkey’s security forces since the ’80s in a campaign that has claimed the lives of some 40,000 people. The group is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

The Supreme Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s verdict and ruled that the prison sentence imposed by the local court was based on an incomplete and insufficient statement of reasons.

The appeals court pointed out that the fact that Mızraklı was prevented from appearing directly before the court and that presenting his defense through the Audio and Visual Information System (SEGBİS) limited his right to defend himself.

The high court concluded that it was contrary to the law for the court to make a decision without examining the digital materials in the file that were allegedly “related to the PKK” without preparing a report on them and without obtaining the testimony of the defendant.

Following the Supreme Court of Appeals’ decision, the case file will be transferred to the local court in Diyarbakır for a retrial of Mızraklı, who is being held in a prison in western Turkey’s Edirne province.

In the local elections of March 31, 2019, Mızraklı was elected mayor of the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakır after garnering 62.93 percent of the vote. The HDP won 65 municipalities in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions in the local elections. But due to the decisions of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) in six cases and the Interior Ministry, more than 50 have been removed from office or not allowed to assume office.

In an opinion published on June 19, 2020, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe (CoE) found the YSK decisions to be inconsistent with international norms and standards and called for their reversal. Similarly, the commission also called for the repeal of the Ministry of Interior’s decisions to replace elected mayors with government officials because “[they] undermine the very nature of local self-government.”

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