Turkish court rules to keep pro-Kurdish HDP’s co-chair Demirtaş behind bars

HDP Co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş.

An Ankara court ruled on Thursday to keep Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), behind the bars during his first hearing in the court on Thursday in the case that led to his arrest 399 days ago.

During the first hearing of the case, opened on charges of leading a terrorist organization, Demirtaş failed to appear before the court as he refused to give his defense through the voice and video informatics system (SEGBIS).

Lawyers for Demirtaş said the court asked him not to show up in the courtroom over security concerns and ordered to defend himself from the prison via SEGBIS. Demirtaş rejected the ruling, underling that he wants “face-to-face” trial.

Turkish prosecutor has demanded continuation of detention for Demirtaş and the Ankara 19th Criminal Court ruled that Demirtaş remains arrested pending trial and the next hearing was scheduled for February 14, 2018.

HDP leader has been under arrest along with other party lawmakers on terrorism charges since Nov 2016. At least 33 separate investigations have been launched against Demirtas over the past year.

According to a report by pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency, during the hearing at Sincan Prison Campus hall, prosecutor demanded continuation of detention for the HDP Co-chair who sent a petition to the court after his denial of participation in the hearing. In the 12-page petition, Demirtaş requested provision of necessary conditions for him to be able to defend himself.

The hearing is held in the Ankara 19th High Criminal Court and 1250 lawyers have appealed to be party to the case. After objections against the court room with a maximum capacity of 20 people, the hearing was moved to a court room with a capacity of 120.

However, international observers were not allowed inside, while HDP Co-chair Serpil Kemalbay and representatives from political parties and DMOs were allowed to observe.  Despite the cold, hundreds gathered in Sincan and chanted “Selahattin Demirtaş is our honor” upon learning that he would not be brought in to court.

While the lawyers’ names were being read during the hearing, the prosecutor demanded the continuation of Demirtaş’s arrest, after which lawyers started their defence.

Lawyer Ercan Kanar said that “The law is not the place for settling political accounts. The place to settle political accounts is in front of the people. We demand you refrain from issuing verdicts that will be the sword in the government’s hands. This lawsuit has been filed in violation of laws and international law. This indictment has no place within the law, and has been prepared under solely political purposes.”

Which court Demirtaş’s case would be heard in could not be decided for a long time, and then the case was attempted to be combined with the case of 4 pro-Hezbollah people’s deaths. Demirtaş’s file went back and forth between the Ankara High Criminal Court No.2 and No.10 several times, but wasn’t combined in the end.

Two days before the hearing, the case expected to be heard in the Sıhhiye Courthouse was transferred to the Sincan Prison Campus hall for “security” reasons. The court has also decided to not to bring Demirtaş into the courtroom for the hearing for “security” reasons as well.

Demirtaş was arrested on Nov. 4, 2016, on terror charges as part of an investigation carried out by the Diyarbakır Chief Prosecutor’s Office, but his case was later sent to the Ankara 19th High Criminal Court for security reasons. There are dozens of complaints filed against Demirtaş.

Turkey has stepped up its crackdown on Kurdish politicians in recent months. Trustees have been appointed to dozens of municipalities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast, while hundreds of local Kurdish politicians as well as 9 HDP deputies including the party’s co-chairs are behind bars on terror charges.

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