Feb 16 2018

Prosecution using official photos to incriminate me - pro-Kurdish former leader

Selahattin Demirtaş, the former leader of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, said the prosecution was using official photos of him taken when he was helping to mediate a peace process with Kurdish militants in an attempt to incriminate him on charges of being part of the group.

The former leader of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the third biggest party in the last elections in 2015, faces up to 142 years in prison on charges of leading a terrorist organisation, inciting hatred and campaigning on behalf of a terrorist organisation.

"Yes, I was indeed photographed at Imralı, at Qandil,” said Demirtaş, referring to the Imralı prison island where Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan has been jailed since 1999, and the remote Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq where the group’s field commanders have their base.

"Those photos were official government documents," Demirtaş said.

He said the Ministry of Justice had sanctioned the photographs during the peace process that began with secret talks between government officials, Öcalan and PKK leaders in 2009 and ended in 2015 with the collapse of a two-and-a-half year ceasefire. Tens of thousands of people, most of them Kurds, have been killed since the conflict began in 1984.

"We didn't bring cameras to Öcalan's prison cell. Those photographs were taken to document the peace process," said Demirtaş. "Once the peace process collapsed, the government decided to take them out of the government archives and distribute them to the media to incriminate other HDP members and me."

During his testimony on Thursday, Demirtaş said the government was trying to scapegoat the HDP for the failure of the Kurdish peace process.