Former HDP co-chair Yüksekdağ to stay in prison, Turkish court rules

Figen Yüksekdağ, a former co-chair of the Turkish pro-minorities Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), will remain in prison pending trial over two years since she was first detained, a Turkish court in the capital city of Ankara has ruled.

Yüksekdağ appeared before the court on Wednesday, the beginning of the latest hearing in her trial facing terror-related charges.

The former HDP co-chair has been held since November 2016, when she and her fellow co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, were arrested on similar charges.

The HDP became the first pro-Kurdish political party to pass Turkey’s 10 percent electoral threshold in June 2015, and has held on to gain representation in parliament in each election since.

However, breakdown of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the ruling party’s subsequent shift towards Turkish nationalism in 2015 left the HDP exposed to prosecution due to some members’ links to the Kurdish insurgent movement.

A legal amendment allowing courts to lift parliamentary immunity passed in 2016, and the state of emergency implemented in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in July that year further enhanced the AKP government’s power to target the party.

Yüksekdağ is one of 10 HDP lawmakers currently imprisoned in Turkey. Yüksekdağ’s application for release was rejected by the court in Ankara, which said it had been given no justification warranting her release, that she posed a flight risk, and that the application for release had been made with a view to prolonging the trial.

The HDP politician, however, said the decision had been a political one, and likened it to a previous decision to keep Demirtaş behind bars in spite of a ruling for his release by the European Court of Human Rights.

“We may have prosecutors and judges in this country, but before all else we have one man,” said Yüksekdağ, referring to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Turkish president came out strongly against the ECHR’s decision regarding Demirtaş, and his interventions have sparked grave concerns about the independence of the Turkish judiciary.

Yüksekdağ also used the occasion of the trial to send a greeting to Leyla Güven, another jailed HDP politician who has fallen seriously ill after spending over two months on hunger strike to protest the treatment of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been held in İmralı Prison in Turkey’s Marmara Sea since his capture in 1999.

Öcalan has been held in solitary confinement since the breakdown of peace talks in 2015, and has been allowed only very limited visits over that period.

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