Turkey’s Erdoğan signals continued imprisonment of former HDP leaders

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday said his government will not allow the release of those responsible for the death dozens of people during protests in October 2014, for which he has in the past directly accused Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed former co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). 

“I want to call out to those who are in front of or behind those terrorist organisations, those who support them. If some are looking for murderers in this country, there is no reason to look for an address. They have infiltrated even the parliament,” left-wing Duvar news site quoted Erdoğan saying during a speech in Istanbul. 

Turkish prosecutors on Friday issued arrest warrants for Demirtaş and former HDP co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ in relation to a wave of violence sparked in 2014 by demonstrations in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast against Turkey’s lack of action to protect the Syrian border city of Kobane from the Islamic State (ISIS).

“This nation does not forget and will not forget those who invited people to the streets and then killed our 53 children in Diyarbakır. We have been following, will follow this issue until the end. We cannot release those. If we release them, our martyrs will hold us accountable,” Erdoğan said, in an apparent reference to Demirtaş. 

Erdoğan has several times said that Demirtaş had responsibility in the death of 53 people. 

“Turkey is a state of law. The person you have mentioned is a terrorist. He is such a terrorist that he encouraged my Kurdish brothers to spill onto the streets and thus caused 53 of my Kurdish brothers to be killed by other Kurds. That is only one of his crimes,” Erdoğan had said in 2017 at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg when reporters asked him about Demirtaş. 

Demirtaş was arrested in November 2016 and has been held since then on various charges related to his alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has fought the Turkish state for Kurdish self-rule for decades.

An Ankara court on Sept. 2 ruled the conditional release of the top pro-Kurdish politician over charges of insulting the president, as the trial continues in the main case against him, in which prosecutors are seeking a sentence of up to 142 years. The charges against him include those related to October 2014 protests. 

Demirtaş remained imprisoned due to a previously-approved sentence of four years and eight months last September over comments he made in a 2013 speech.

His lawyers maintain he should be released due to time he served.

Erdoğan’s comments echo statements he made after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last year ordered the immediate release of Demirtaş, stating that his further confinement without any new evidence would amount to continued violations of Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“We will make a counter-move and finish the job,” he said. Following his statements a court in Ankara rejected ECHR’s release order and a court in Istanbul approved Demirtaş’s four-years-and-eight-months prison sentence.

Europe’s top human rights court this week convened to listen to Demirtaş’s lawyers over another appeal. The court is expected to announce its verdict in the coming months. 

Meanwhile, the Chief Prosecutors Office in Ankara said in a written statement that the new arrests warrants for Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ was issued in relation to an investigation into their statements in the media during “Kobane events”. The prosecutors said 38 people lost their lives during protests  in 2014 in 32 cities.

Turkey is ready to take unilateral action regarding the situation at the Syrian border, Erdoğan said during the same speech. 

“Our preparations along our borders are complete,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying. 
The president continued to say, “We have no wish to come face to face with the United States, however, we cannot afford to overlook the U.S. support to a terrorist organisation.”

Turkey and the United States have recently come to an agreement regarding the establishment of a safe zone along the Turkish border in the Kurdish-held territories in north Syria, but Turkish authorities repeatedly speak against the United States’ continued support for the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Turkey considers to be a terrorist organisation.