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.


Arabs in Middle East know the US election will affect their lives, experts say

Updated 29 October 2020

Arabs in Middle East know the US election will affect their lives, experts say

  • Editor-in-chief and columnist take part in US radio discussion of Arab News/YouGov survey of opinions on the presidential candidates
  • Whether Biden triumphs or Trump wins second term, the poll suggests most people in region want Washington to maintain a tough stance on Iran

CHICAGO: Arabs in the Middle East have a direct stake in the outcome of next week’s US presidential election. That was the conclusion reached on Wednesday by the guests who took part in a US radio discussion of a recent YouGov poll, commissioned by Arab News, that asked people across the region for their opinions on the candidates and their policies.
Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abbas and columnist Dalia Al-Aqidi agreed that one of the key conclusions that can be drawn from the “Election 2020: What do Arabs Want?” survey is that most people in the region believe the election will have an effect on their lives.
About 40 percent of those polled said Democratic challenger Joe Biden is the better choice for the region, compared with only 12 percent who preferred Trump. However, 53 percent said they had opposed the policies of Biden’s former running mate, President Barack Obama, who is currently on the campaign trail to rally support for his former vice president.
“What is very interesting about the study we did this time around is that while the majority thinks that Biden might be better for the region (about half of the respondents) don’t even know who Biden is,” Abbas said during the “The Ray Hanania Show” on WNZK AM 690 Radio in Detroit, which is part of the US Arab Radio Network. “They are voting for a candidate they don’t know just so they don’t vote for Trump.”
Biden’s close association with Obama is seen by many Arabs as a negative factor.
“You cannot separate Joe Biden from Barack Obama,” said Abbas. “Yet even people who said Biden is better for the region, 58 percent of them said that they would want Biden to distance himself from Obama’s policies, and they think Obama left the region in a worse-off situation.”
Al-Aqidi said it is unrealistic to expect that Biden would disregard his personal history with Obama.
“This is impossible — you cannot expect Biden to distance himself from Obama,” she said. “Actually, Obama is helping and trying to save Biden in the past two weeks, campaigning with him.
“Even in Biden’s platform, it always goes back to ‘I was a VP and as a VP I did this.’ It would be extremely hard for Biden to distance himself … if Biden wins, he will be a shadow of Obama.”
The YouGov survey, which was commissioned by the Arab News Research and Studies Unit, asked 3,097 people in 18 Arab countries about their opinions on a number of issues relating to the US presidential election.
The continuation of Washington’s recent tough stance on Iran was one of the top issues that respondents said the winner should focus on. Notably, the war posture adopted against Iran by the Trump administration, and the strict sanctions it has imposed on the regime in Tehran, received strong support from people polled in Iraq (53 percent), Lebanon (38 percent) and Yemen (54 percent), three nations that have been severely affected by the regional activities of the Iranian state.
“This is not a marginal issue for people living in the Middle East,” said Abbas. “You just have to look at countries, any country in the Middle East: where you find destruction, you will find Iranian fingerprints all over.”
The main issue is not religion or differences between Sunnis and Shi’ites, he added, it is Iranian interference in the affairs of other nations.
“As the former ambassador to the US, Prince Khaled, said, Saudi Arabia used to send tourists to Lebanon — Iran sends terrorists,” Abbas said.
“For people who have short-term memories let me remind them it was the Iranians who attacked the US Marines in Beirut. It’s the Iranians who transformed (Beirut) from a tourist destination … today, Lebanon is (experiencing) one of its worst-ever economic crises and it does not look like there is a way out for it.”
Arabs in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen are therefore very supportive of Trump’s tough approach to Iran, he added.
“Nobody is safe from the Iranian tentacles,” Abbas said. “This is a mad regime.”
On another important regional issue, slightly more than half of the Arabs polled said they do not support a bigger role for Washington in the peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis. However, the proportion of Palestinians living in the occupied territories who favor greater US involvement was higher.
“I think the Trump administration succeeded in this issue (pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians) more than any other previous administration,” said Al-Aqidi. “The US approach now is extremely different and it is driven by number one, the economy.”
She added that Trump’s strategy of brokering the recent agreements by the UAE and Bahrain to normalize relations with Israel was “the result of a different strategy.”
“The Ray Hanania Show,” which is sponsored by Arab News, is broadcast on WNZK AM 690, on the US Arab Radio Network, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. EST on Wednesdays. There is also a live simulcast of the show on the Arab News Facebook page.