ANKARA: The controversial indictment of 108 people, including Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, former co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), over their involvement in the 2014 street protests was approved on Tuesday by Ankara Heavy Penal Court.
Demirtas and Yuksekdag, who face trial on several other charges, have been behind bars for over four years.
The 3,530-page-long indictment accused the defendants of homicide and of undermining state authority and territorial integrity, seeking life sentences for 38 of them.
The first trial will be held on April 25.
In October 2014, large crowds flooded the streets in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast region to protest against Ankara’s inaction in defending Syrians during Daesh’s siege of Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, just across the border.
When the demonstrations became violent, 37 people were killed, and Ankara blamed the HDP for triggering the violence.
This latest indictment is seen as a new attempt by the government to restrain the HDP and further corner it over its links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
However, the imprisonment of Demirtas has been harshly criticized by European institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which on Dec. 22 called for Demirtas’ release.
“This is the 3,530-page indictment announced after six years and after the ECHR decision! It is based on newspaper articles, comments and predictions of anonymous witnesses, as well as tweets from a fake account that was opened in the name of Demirtas. Lots of copy and paste. Honestly, I expected a more successful ‘Counter Move’ setup!” tweeted Demirtas’ lawyer, Mahsuni Karaman.
The ECHR considers his detention had “the ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate” without any substantial evidence about the terrorism charges that he is accused of. According to the European court, his continued detention is a serious “violation of his rights.”
However, ECHR decisions, despite being binding, are often flouted in Turkey, with the rulers in Ankara accusing the top European court of being one-sided and having a double standard.
Erdogan recently called Demirtas a “terrorist with the blood of dozens of people on his hands.”
“The indictment is another attempt to flout the ECHR judgment ordering Demirtas’ release,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, director of Human Rights Watch Turkey, told Arab News. “However, Demirtas is already on trial on the basis of the same evidence so it doesn’t work to simply change the charge and try him a second time on the same bogus evidence in an effort to keep him locked up.”
Since the March 2019 local elections, dozens of HDP municipality mayors have been replaced by government-appointed trustees over the protests.
Last October, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalistic ally MHP yet again rejected the HDP’s demand for a proper investigation of the 2014 protests.
According to Sinclair-Webb, the European court’s judgment made that very point and ordered the immediate release of Demirtas.
“Turkey must implement that European court judgment immediately,” she said.
While the government bloc accuses HDP of inflaming violence, the Kurdish party claims that it was doing its best to prevent bloodshed at that time.