The leading figures of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, and former HDP deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder were sentenced to prison on Friday by a court in İstanbul, according to a report by the Cumhuriyet daily.
Participating in the hearing via the SEGBİS audiovisual system, Demirtaş requested the hearing be adjourned to allow him additional time to prepare a defense, but the court rejected his request and handed down the sentence.
Demirtaş was sentenced to four years, eight months in prison while Önder was sentenced to three years, six months at the same hearing, for speeches at a Kurdish new year celebration (Newroz) during the peace process in 2013.
Demirtaş condemned the panel of judges for “not being independent,” saying the court had acted with bias due to his and Önder’s “political views.”
Demirtaş also said during the hearing: “There are two reasons why I attended today’s hearing via SEGBİS. The first reason is that I have some trouble traveling because of a health problem. The second is that you gave me the choice of participating in person or via SEGBİS in the statement you issued. It is illegal to be judged via SEGBIS, but today is my choice.”
“Until today, you have not accepted a single appeal from me and my lawyers. If our requests had been heard, this trial would have ended already,” Demirtaş said and added: “You have already judged me without even reading the file. You have tried me and Önder for two speeches. The speeches we made are in the file. The sentence in the indictment is wrong. I do not accept that wrong sentence as a crime.”
The peace process was launched tentatively in October 2012 by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government led by then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to resolve Turkey’s long-standing Kurdish question.
The HDP criticised the court’s decision on Twitter, saying, “This verdict is the AKP government’s decision to continue its policy of war.”
On Saturday, the HDP organized a protest against the sentence given to Demirtaş and Önder. The demonstration was held in front of Diyarbakır city hall, and a large number of party members attended.
Speaking in the meeting HDP’s provincial co-chair, Şerif Çamcı stated that Demirtaş and Önder had been punished for their role in the peace and solution process. “The decision to open the case is not a legal one but a political one. This decision is a clear indication of the government’s anti-peace stance and its policies of war,” added Çamcı.
Emphasizing that this sentence aims at destroying hope and the search for peace Çamçı said that “The AKP-MHP coalition is a war alliance. The sentence against Demirtaş and in Önder is in fact against the people of Turkey who had put their hope in them as they were working for peace. With this sentence, the government aims at eliminating the search for peace and hope of the society”.
Demirtaş has been held in a maximum-security prison in the northwestern province of Edirne for nearly two years while awaiting trial. With this decision, Demirtaş has received his first sentence on terrorism charges.
President Erdoğan accuses Demirtaş and the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has carried out a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
Both Demirtaş and the HDP have denied the accusations of links to the PKK, designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
In June, while campaigning for re-election in the presidential election, Erdoğan called Demirtaş a terrorist and claimed he was responsible for the deaths of Kurdish civilians during unrest three years ago.
Demirtaş, a former human rights lawyer, ran against Erdoğan in the elections, and campaigned from prison, largely through social media. After having won votes beyond his core Kurdish constituency in previous elections, Demirtaş failed to mount a significant challenge to Erdoğan in June, winning 8.40 percent of the vote to Erdoğan’s 52.59 percent.
However, his HDP remains the second-largest opposition party in Turkey’s newly restructured, 600-member parliament. Erdoğan’s ruling AKP and their Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) allies hold the majority.