Kurdish leader sent back to prison despite health fears

Selahattin Demirtas greets Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) supporters during a rally in Istanbul, in 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 03 December 2019

Kurdish leader sent back to prison despite health fears

  • Turkish authorities accused of ‘negligence’ after Selahattin Demirtas collapses in jail cell
  • Demirtas, the former co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and nicknamed the ‘Kurdish Obama,’ has been in prison for more than three years on terror-related charges

ANKARA: Jailed pro-Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas was taken to hospital on Monday for health checks after collapsing five days ago in his prison cell.
The move followed criticism of Turkish authorities for failing to authorize emergency treatment earlier.
However, contrary to hopes that Demirtas would undergo extensive examinations, he was returned to prison within a few hours.
Demirtas’ sister Aygul and his supporters had criticized Turkish authorities for refusing to carry out full checks and detailed examinations, claiming that Demirtas received emergency treatment in prison in Edirne in northwestern Turkey.
“He has not been sent to hospital because of security reasons,” his sister said.
Lawyers and family members were not told about Demirtaş’ collapse for two days, with his sister learning about his health issues only on Monday, three days after the incident, when she came to visit her brother.
Authorities were informed on Friday about the need to take Demirtas to hospital for tests, but the process stalled over the weekend. Family and lawyers had to bring the politician’s case to the attention of the media before official approval was given.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Demirtas’ lawyer, Mahsuni Karaman, said the politician, who has had coronary issues previously, had serious chest pains and breathing problems, and lost his memory for a short while.
His lawyers are set to apply to the Constitutional Court to speed up legal proceedings for examining his dossier at the court.
“We haven’t received the results of his health examinations yet. If there is an acute situation that means he has to be transferred to a full-fledged hospital, we will apply to the relevant authorities to accelerate that process,” Karaman said.
Demirtas, the former co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and nicknamed the “Kurdish Obama,” has been in prison for more than three years on terror-related charges.
If convicted, he faces a prison term of up to 142 years.
His lawyers recently made their sixth application to the Constitutional Court claiming that he is being kept in prison despite two release orders.
Last year the European Court of Human Rights called for Demirtas’ release from pre-trial detention, claiming that the case “had political incentives” aimed at “limiting freedom of political debate” in Turkey.
Emma Sinclair-Webb, of Human Rights Watch, said Turkey has a poor record of providing medical care for sick prisoners and those with chronic or life-threatening health conditions.
“Demirtas is one of thousands of prisoners denied the right to proper health care,” she told Arab News. “Combined with the Turkish government’s politically motivated and arbitrary detention, any further denial of necessary medical treatment will fuel concerns of deliberate negligence on the part of the authorities.” 
About a dozen lawmakers from HDP, Turkey’s third-largest parliamentary party, are being held in prison pending trial over terror-related charges after their parliamentary immunities were lifted more than three years ago.
The Turkish government accuses the HDP of having links to the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, the EU and the US.
Demirtas, a former lawyer and a charismatic leader, won almost 10 percent of the vote in 2014 presidential elections, where he challenged Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
His next hearing will be held in Ankara from Jan. 7-9.


China scrambles to contain ‘strengthening’ virus

Updated 26 January 2020

China scrambles to contain ‘strengthening’ virus

  • Coronavirus’ transmission ability getting stronger
  • China confirms 1,975 people infected, 56 dead

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: The ability of the new coronavirus to spread is strengthening and infections could continue to rise, China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday, with more than 2,000 people in China infected and 56 killed by the disease.
Health authorities around the world are racing to prevent a pandemic after a handful of cases of infection were reported outside China, including in Thailand, Australia, the United States and France.
The mayor of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, said he expected another 1,000 new patients in the city, which was stepping up construction of special hospitals.
The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because much about it is still unknown, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
China’s National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said the incubation period for the virus can range from one to 14 days, during which infection can occur, which was not the case with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
SARS was a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.
“According to recent clinical information, the virus’ ability to spread seems to be getting somewhat stronger,” Ma told reporters.
The Lunar New Year holiday, traditionally celebrated by hundreds of millions of Chinese traveling around the country and abroad to see family, began on Friday but has been severely disrupted by the outbreak.
Ma said China would intensify its containment efforts, which have so far included transportation and travel curbs and the cancelation of big events.
The country may extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing a meeting hosted by Chinese premier Li Keqiang.
The virus, believed to have originated late last year in a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife, has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai. Hong Kong has six confirmed cases.
The World Health Organization this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health experts question whether China can contain the epidemic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping described the situation as “grave” on Saturday.
China confirmed 2,051 cases of infection as of 7 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Jan. 26, while the death toll from the virus remained at 56, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Health officials in Orange County, California, reported that a third case had been registered in the United States in a traveler from Wuhan, who was in isolation and in good condition.
On Saturday, Canada declared a first “presumptive” confirmed case in a resident who had returned from Wuhan. Australia confirmed its first four cases.
No fatalities have been reported outside China.

WILDLIFE SALES BAN
On Sunday, China temporarily banned nationwide the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants, and e-commerce platforms. Wild and often poached animals packed together in Chinese markets are blamed as incubators for viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.
Snakes, peacocks, crocodiles and other species can also be found for sale via Taobao, an e-commerce website run by Alibaba.
The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society called on China to make the ban permanent.
The US State Department said it will relocate personnel at its Wuhan consulate to the United States, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government was working with China to arrange a charter flight for Japanese nationals to return from Wuhan.
The outbreak has prompted widening curbs on movements within China, with Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on virtual lockdown and transport links all-but severed except for emergency vehicles.

CANCELLATIONS AND MISTRUST
Health authorities in Beijing urged people not to shake hands but instead salute using a traditional cupped-hand gesture. The advice was sent in a text message that went out to mobile phone users in the city on Sunday morning.
Beijing also postponed the reopening of the city’s schools and universities after the Lunar New Year holiday, state radio reported. Hong Kong had already delayed the reopening of schools to Feb. 17.
China has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after a cover-up of the spread of the SARS virus eroded public trust, but officials in Wuhan have been criticized for their handling of the current outbreak.
“People in my hometown all suspect the real infected patients number given by authorities,” said Violet Li, who lives in the Wuhan district where the seafood market is located.
Illustrating the extend of disruption to life in China, overall passenger travel declined by nearly 29% on Saturday, the first day of the Lunar New Year, from a year earlier, with air passengers down nearly 42%, a transportation ministry official said.
Many cinemas across China were closed with major film premieres postponed.
Cruise operators including Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Costa Cruises said they had canceled a combined 12 cruises that had been scheduled to embark from Chinese ports before Feb. 2.
Hong Kong Disneyland and the city’s Ocean Park were closed on Sunday. Shanghai Disneyland, which expected 100,000 visitors daily through the holiday period, has already closed.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of these efforts.