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Turkey's Kurdish leaders face prison

August 12, 2016

Turkish prosecutors have indicted leading figures in the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). They stand accused of spreading "terrorist group propaganda" as deadly violence in the Kurdish southeast continues.

Partei für Frieden und Demokratie BDP in der Türkei
Image: AFP/Getty Images

Prosecutors in Istanbul indicted HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas and filmmaker and Istanbul MP Sirri Sureyya Onder on Friday, for crimes that carry up to five-year prison terms.

The indictments come a day after a police raid on an HDP branch office that authorities said targeted sympathizers of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The indictment specifically accuses Demirtas and Onder of praising the PKK's imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan in speeches they made in 2013. The addresses were made when a peace process between the PKK's leader and Turkey was underway.

The 30-month ceasefire subsequently collapsed with daily casualties resuming in some of the worst urban fighting in years with entire city blocks razed by the Turkish military and thousands of civilians left for weeks without electricity, water and medical care.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses the HDP of being the political wing of the outlawed PKK and successfully pushed for parliament to lift the immunity of many opposition MPs in May.

The HDP has denied links to the PKK but admits that its political base draws upon sympathizers with the Kurdish guerilla movement. Demirtas told his parliamentary group this week that the HDP is the only opposition party that dares challenge Erdogan and his dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP).

"We are Turkey's only opposition party," Demirtas said Tuesday, the Iraqi Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported. "The people have only one hope."

Erdogan's popularity soars in post-coup environment

A recent survey of more than 1,200 people conducted two weeks ago found Erdogan's approval rating had risen to nearly 68 percent - a jump of 21 percentage points over last year, the Ankara-based Metropoll research company said.

A government-sponsored pro-democracy rally last Sunday that attracted more than a million people excluded the HDP, the country's third largest political party.

Demirtas has accused the AKP of exploiting people's passions following the failed July 15 coup attempt for political purposes and failing to use the national unity to restart the stalled Kurdish peace initiative.

"On the one hand, our doors are open to reconciliation and peace. On the other hand, we will not remain silent against injustice and persecution," Demirtas said, according to Rudaw. "This is not a personal matter. The country is waiting for reconciliation and a political solution."

Türkei Die unübersichtliche Lage in Cizre
The remains of an apartment building in the southeastern city of Cizre in March 2016. Pitched fighting continues in and around the city between Kurdish insurgents and security forces.Image: DW/M. Bayram

Scorched earth policies continue

The PKK has fought a decades-long insurgency in the southeast, seeking political autonomy and cultural and linguistic rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority. More than 40,000 people have been killed since 1984.

jar/kl (Reuters, AFP)