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Turkey: Pro-Kurdish leader Demirtas gets 42 years in prison

May 16, 2024

Selahattin Demirtas, the former leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, has been sentenced to more than 40 years in prison in Turkey for allegedly inciting the deadly Kobani riots in 2014.

Selahattin Demirtas
Selahattin Demirtas, a two-time election rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has already been imprisoned since 2016Image: HDP

A Turkish court on Thursday sentenced Selahattin Demirtas, the former leader of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, to 42 years in prison for his alleged role in deadly protests in 2014 that were triggered by an Islamic State attack on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

Another leading pro-Kurdish politician, Figen Yuksekdag, was sentenced to just over 30 years. Many other senior HDP figures were convicted among a total of 108 defendants charged with 29 offenses, including murder and harming the unity of the Turkish state.

At least 10 other defendants were acquitted of the charges against them. The politicians are expected to appeal the verdicts.

As the chief judge began to read the verdict, defense lawyers and observers in the courtroom at a prison complex on the outskirts of the capital Ankara banged on tables and chanted in Kurdish, "Long live the resistance of the HDP" and "Long live the resistance of Kobani."

Demirtas has been in jail since November 2016 on terrorism-related charges. He remains one of Turkey's most influential political figures. Demirtas and Yuksekdag were among 18 defendants already in jail.

Why did the protests happen in 2014?

Deadly riots in Turkey in 2014 were the result of a call by pro-Kurdish leaders in Turkey who were frustrated by what they perceived to be Turkish support for Islamic State group militants besieging the Syrian border town of Kobani.

Three days of clashes in October 2014 resulted in 37 deaths and hundreds of injuries, including police officers. The HDP blamed Turkish police for causing the deaths.

US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, who Turkey officially considers terrorists, drove the jihadists out of Kobani in January 2015.

In a testimony in 2023, Demirtas slammed the case as a "revenge" trial.

"There's no single evidence about me. This is a case of political revenge, we were not legally arrested, we are all political hostages," he said.

Ankara accuses the HDP of having ties to the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. The HDP denies any links to terrorism.

Faced with the prospect of closure, the HDP regrouped last year under the banner of the DEM party, the third largest in parliament.

dh/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)