Erdoğan shadow judge in case against Kurdish politicians, says Selahattin Demirtaş

A total of 108 prominent members of the pro-Kurdish left wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are facing trial for their alleged involvements in the 2014 protests in Turkey, dubbed the Kobani incidents.

In the second hearing of the trial held in Istanbul on Tuesday, former co-leader of the HDP Selahattin Demirtaş said it was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who was truly at the judge’s seat, while the prosecution was left to “sycophant media and the army of trolls”.

Demirtaş cited Erdoğan, who said Turkish judiciary would “do what is necessary” following a Dec. 2020 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for Demirtaş’s immediate release.

Demirtaş made his comments as the 108 politicians-turned-suspects challenged the panel of judges, saying they were not impartial.

“The accusations against my friends are the most glaring sign of a politically-motivated trial,” Mezopotamya news agency cited Demirtaş, a human rights lawyer himself, as saying.

The popular Kurdish politician who has been behind bars since Nov. 2016 said the trial was “not a case on Kobani (incidents)”, but “a plot, a case of political vengeance against the HDP”.

In Oct. 2014, street protests broke out in the Kurdish-majority southeast and spread throughout Turkey over an Islamic State (ISIS) siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, and Erdoğan’s perceived support for the fundamentalist terror group when he said the town was “about to fall”. More than 30 people died during the three days of protests between Oct. 6 and 8.

HDP’s 108 politicians stand accused of varying degrees of responsibility in the deaths, ranging from first-degree murder to incitement to violence. In the indictment the prosecutor also accuses the politicians of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for Kurdish autonomy for four decades that is designated terrorist by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The suspects reject all allegations, and say they at worst called for people to exercise their right to democratic protest.

“One day the Kobani Case will truly begin and the real culprits, the state and government officials who provoked the streets, the governors and police chiefs, those who ordered the massacre and those who carried it out will be brought to the light,” Demirtaş said. “But rest assured that we won’t be the ones sitting as suspects then.”

Demirtaş has previously said most of the people who lost their lives had been HDP supporters, and that there had been extensive police involvement in their deaths.

The former HDP leader went on to accuse judges of leaking confidential information on the case to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Ahead of the ECHR ruling on Dec. 22, 2020, Erdoğan and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli had spoken in public against Demirtaş to influence the court, the politician said.

“Forty days before the ECHR ruling was announced, Erdoğan said he wouldn’t interfere with the judiciary, but that they wouldn’t defend the rights of such a terrorist as myself,” Demirtaş said. “Did the ECHR’s member judge from Turkey let the Turkish government know the content of the Grand Chamber ruling?”

On Jan. 7, 2021, a deputy chairman from the MHP tweeted about the Turkish court’s preliminary proceedings record 18 minutes after it was uploaded to the online system, which only the judges, prosecutor and defence lawyers should have been able to access, Demirtaş continued.

“This is how Turkey heard of the case,” Demirtaş said. “Before this tweet, (state-run) Anadolu Agency hadn’t run a story, our lawyers or party hadn’t checked the system and made a statement.”

“This showcases your panel’s relations with the MHP. One of you did this, or your clerks,” the jailed politician said.

“It is difficult to discuss procedure, because we are not facing a fair trial,” Demirtaş’s co-chair at the time Figen Yüksekdağ, who is facing the same charges and was arrested at the same time as Demirtaş, said.

“Cases we faced trial for in the past were twisted and turned around to take on a freak form, and without even bothering to manufacture evidence, a new case was filed on the orders of the government,” Mezopotamya cited Yüksekdağ as saying. “It is impossible to take this indictment seriously.”

The indictment “lack gravity so much” that a prosecutor “confused the Yüksek name, and included in the file a speech by Kamuran Yüksek as if I made it,” Yüksekdağ said.

“I am looking for an answer as to why this case was filed six years after the fact,” she continued. “Neither the government nor the prosecutor has an answer to why the investigation wasn’t extended six years ago.”

The government and the courts “did nothing over the loss of these lives except for shouting”, Yüksekdağ said. According to the former HDP co-chair, the left-wing opposition party submitted parliamentary inquiries and draft laws at the time to investigate the events, all rejected by the ruling AKP’s votes.

“Your duty in this case is to bring to light who is responsible for the death of 37 people,” Sebahat Tuncel, jailed former HDP deputy, said, addressing the court following Yüksekdağ’s statements.

“This isn’t a matter of political fodder. At least try to reach the truth,” current HDP deputy Filiz Kerestecioğlu cited Tuncel as saying in a tweet.

“We are asked why we said those fighting against ISIS were defending human dignity,” an official HDP account cited Tuncel as saying. “We will always defend this. Women were sold in slave markets and this is what you bring in front of us.”

The hearing concluded after lawyers submitted a request to review the pre-trial detentions of 28 defendants. Trial will continue on May 20, Thursday, Mezopotamya said.

From the morning onwards, journalists were not allowed to enter the court room, officially due to a lack of proper accreditation, while the court house security attempted to collect smart phones from attendants who were admitted, according to Mezopotamya.