Protests Lead to Jail for Ex-Party Leader Amid Political Tensions

17 May 2024

    Political Tensions Rise as Turkish Court Hands Down Heavy Sentences to Pro-Kurdish Leaders

    In a move that has escalated political tensions in Turkey, a Turkish court has handed down heavy jail sentences to two prominent pro-Kurdish leaders. Selahattin Demirtas, the former leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), received a sentence exceeding 40 years, while Figen Yuksekdag was sentenced to just over 30 years in jail. The charges stemmed from protests in 2014, which were instigated by an Islamic State attack on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

    The verdicts are expected to intensify the scrutiny surrounding the HDP, which faces the threat of being disbanded in a separate legal case. The HDP has been succeeded in parliament by another pro-Kurdish party, the DEM Party. During the announcement of the verdict, defense lawyers and courtroom observers expressed their dissent by chanting slogans in support of the HDP and Kobani’s resistance.

    The 2014 protests, which resulted in 37 deaths, were sparked by allegations that Turkey’s military did not intervene as Islamic State militants besieged Kobani. In this trial, many senior HDP figures were among the 108 defendants charged with various offenses, including homicide and undermining the unity of the state. While some defendants were acquitted, the HDP has consistently denied all charges.

    Prosecutors had initially sought 38 “aggravated life” sentences without parole for protest-related deaths. The trial, which began in April 2021, has been criticized by defendants and defense lawyers as politically motivated. Following the trial, DEM Party co-chairs condemned the verdicts as a “black stain” on Turkey’s judicial system and an attempt to suppress Kurdish political voices.

    Demirtas, who has been imprisoned since November 2016 on terrorism-related charges, remains a significant political figure in Turkey. The European Court of Human Rights previously ruled that his detention violated his rights, including freedom of expression and liberty. Despite this ruling, Demirtas and Yuksekdag were among 18 defendants already incarcerated.

    The government of President Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party have been accused of exerting undue influence over Turkish courts, a claim they deny. The HDP, which regrouped under the DEM Party banner last year, is accused by Ankara of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a claim it denies.

    In his final statement before sentencing, defendant Alp Altinors criticized the case as a conspiracy aimed at criminalizing HDP activities and emphasized that calling for democratic protest should not be considered a crime. He was sentenced to more than 20 years in jail for his involvement.


    What protests did Demirtas incite in 2014?

    In 2014, Selahattin Demirtaş, then co-leader of Turkeys pro-Kurdish HDP, called for protests to support the Syrian town of Kobane against ISIS attacks, leading to widespread unrest in Turkey.

    Can protests incite legal action as in Demirtas case?

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