Figen Gunes
Dec 12 2017

Demirtaş's hearing postponed to next year

The trial of the co-chair of Turkey’s third-biggest political party, the People's Democratic Party's (HDP), was postponed to Feb. 14, 2018 after its first hearing was held in his absence.

Demirtaş has been in pretrial detention since November 2016, and if convicted, he could face a 142-year prison sentence.

In the first hearing Demirtaş was denied the right to carry out his defence in person rather than use a remote video system, and so did not defend himself.

He took to Twitter instead, saying "The judiciary arrested me as if I was running away from them, but actually for the past 13 months the judiciary has been running away from me."

The video technology may have been used in other cases in Turkey, but in this case it was "specifically used in Demirtaş case to isolate him from his electors," his lawyer Mahsuni Karaman told Ahval. "This is all part of a political elimination process carried out against him."

Mahsuni Karaman
Mahsuni Karaman

Demirtaş was charged after a decision to strip him and other members of parliament of their immunity from prosecution. The evidence cited against him relies heavily on his public speeches.

In addition, many pages of transcripts of wiretapped calls and intercepted conversations have been used as evidence to suggest a link between Demirtaş and the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), a non-governmental group in Diyarbakır. The prosecutor alleges that the group is an arm of the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

"I'm not certain whether or not Demirtaş will be allowed to attend his next hearing as the judicial system is arbitrary in Turkey,” Karaman said.

"It is a black stain on the country that they cannot arrange to safely bring Demirtaş to the courtroom."

The main case is made up of 31 summary proceedings issued against Demirtaş before he lost his immunity.

All of them refer to his political activities, but in the main case he is being tried over his supposed leadership of the DTK.

On top of that, there are 17 other cases in which Demirtaş is being tried across the country.

"Courts can only try him for the alleged crime for which his immunity was removed,” Karaman said, adding that in Demirtaş’s case that was terror group membership rather than the leadership of the DTK.

“For MPs to be tried in courts in Turkey, for each alleged crime immunity must be dropped separately. And I asked the court to close the case for this reason."

Human Rights Watch Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb told Ahval that, ''The main indictment against him is largely made up of his political speeches, which were made in an entirely legitimate way.”

“He is also held responsible for all the deaths that occurred after Kobani protests of 2014 because his party made a call to protest government policy towards Kobani. Holding him responsible for up to 50 deaths is disproportionate because there is no way his party could have foreseen what would happen in those events.”

“Putting him in a prison for over a year means he has been removed from his political position so he cannot fulfil his parliamentary duties given to him by more than five million voters,” Sinclair-Webb added.

The traditional halay folk dance, which for some has become a symbol of solidarity amongst the Kurds of Turkey, was danced in front of the courthouse last week under the eyes of police officers.

A large number of foreign journalists as well as politicians were denied entry into the courtroom, so watched the folk dance near the court.

“Demirtaş and his close friends used to like this dance at their impromptu home concerts,'' Muharrem Erbey, a close friend and colleague of Demirtaş, said, adding that Demirtaş would accompany the dance on his seven-stringed saz.

Muharrem Erbey
Muharrem Erbey

Having spent four years in prison himself over his political links, Erbey calls himself a veteran prisoner. He cheerfully showed Ahval his international peace prizes on the wall behind him in his Diyarbakır office.

Having worked at the Diyarbakır Human Rights Association (İHD) along with Demirtaş before his days in politics, Erbey says “His witty personality and humour makes him a strong person and a powerful leader. I focused on literature and he focused on music, but the Kurdish issue has vast problems which need our attention."

Demirtaş has so far addressed his voters and others through different artforms including a book published earlier this year.

The first 100,000 copies of the book of 12 short stories have already sold out.

His stories introduce some ordinary characters including a cleaner and a lorry driver who speak in local dialects. "This proved to be a great alternative way for Demirtaş to reach members of the public," Erbey said.

Demirtaş received a majority of the vote in Diyarbakır, where crime and unemployment levels have been consistently on the increase.

"I see it unlikely that he will be released soon, but Diyarbakir needs his leadership immensely,” Erbey said. “We are a Middle Eastern society, so we gather around leaders. In the city now, prostitution and drugs have been on the increase due to the government turning a blind eye.”

From behind bars in Edirne, the furthest city in Turkey from Diyarbakır, Demirtaş's disappointment was visible in his tweets after his first hearing.

"The judiciary was already in a pathetic condition. But now even that judiciary no longer exists,” he wrote. “On the buildings of Justice Palaces [Turkish courthouses] the word ‘justice’ has been scrubbed off and only the word ‘palace’ is left."

"Those who commit these crimes will one day be held accountable before the public,” Demirtaş said in another tweet. “Their pandering to the palace will go down in the history books as a disgrace."