Turkish appeals court sentences pro-Kurdish HDP deputy to 7 years in prison

A Turkish appeals court has sentenced pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Burcu Çelik Özkan to prison for alleged terrorism propaganda, according to a report by the pro-Kurdish Mesopotamia news agency.

Özkan was sentenced to seven years, three months and 10 days on charges of disseminating propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). She had previously been given six years for the same offense by a lower court, but the sentence was dropped and the case retried on appeal.

“You will get the hell out of this place,” Özkan was accused in an indictment of having said to security personnel during the July 7, 2015 general election campaign. “We know well how to turn that Kalashnikov you are pointing at us back towards you.”

Prosecutors also said Özkan attended the funerals of PKK militants Berjin Demirkaya and Özgür Akınel and gave a eulogy at the funeral that constituted terrorist propaganda, charges she denied. “There is no concrete evidence that I attended the funeral,” Özkan said.

She also gave a different account of her actions in 2015 to that of the prosecution, saying that she had been opposing the presence of security forces at the ballot box intended to intimidate voters. “On July 7, 2015 I went to the towns of Sungu and Karaağaç with other candidate colleagues to see electoral and ballot box security in the field. There were security guards waiting at the ballot boxes with Kalashnikovs in Karaağaç,” Özkan said.

“We lodged our objections to them. We faced violence, insults and swearing from the village guards. They hit my hand with a gun.”

The court gave her five years for “threats making use of a terror organization’s power to frighten,” one year, three months for “terrorist organization propaganda” and one year, 10 days for “committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization while not being a member of that organization.”

SUMMARIES OF PROCEEDINGS ISSUED FOR 8 HDP DEPUTIES

Meanwhile, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has issued summaries of proceedings for eight HDP deputies on charges of “openly insulting the Turkish nation, the Republic of Turkey, its government, soldiers and law enforcement agency,” “propagandizing for a terrorist organization,” “violating the Law on Political Parties” and “insulting the president.”

According to a report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, the summaries of proceedings were issued for HDP deputies Osman Baydemir, Alican Önlü, Feleknas Uca, Sibel Yiğitalp, Nadir Yıldırım, Dilek Öcalan, Mizgin Irgat and Garo Paylan, charging them with “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” due to statements they previously made.

The statements and interviews as well as their social media posts have been cited as justification for the issuance of the summaries of proceedings. Demanding the revocation of the parliamentary immunity of the eight HDP deputies as specified in Article No. 83 of the constitution, the summaries of proceedings have been sent to the Justice Ministry  to be presented to Parliament.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has also requested permission to launch an investigation into HDP deputies Baydemir and Lezgin Botan. The request has been sent to the Justice Ministry’s Directorate General of Penal Affairs.

The Turkish government’s crackdown on the Kurdish political movement began in late 2016 with the arrest of high profile politicians, including the party’s then co-chairs, Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, which led to the detention of at least 5,000 members of the HDP, including 80 mayors.

Trustees have been appointed to dozens of municipalities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast. There are currently 9 HDP deputies behind bars. The developments have attracted widespread criticism from the region and Western countries.

Turkish authorities had conducted direct talks with Abdullah Öcalan, jailed leader of the outlawed PKK for several years until a truce in effect collapsed in the summer of 2015. Since then, there have been heavy clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces.

More than 40,000 people, including 5,500 security force members, have been killed in four decades of fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU. Over 1,200 Turkish security personnel and civilians, including a number of women and children, have been killed since July 2015 alone, when the Turkish government and the PKK resumed the armed struggle.

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