Turkish Court Imposes Long Sentences on Pro-Kurdish Politicians - Latest Global News

Turkish Court Imposes Long Sentences on Pro-Kurdish Politicians

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A Turkish court handed down lengthy prison sentences to 24 pro-Kurdish politicians on Thursday after finding them guilty of multiple crimes related to deadly street protests a decade ago.

In a case that human rights activists denounced as a trial to silence Turkey’s opposition, the court on the outskirts of Ankara handed down prison sentences ranging from nine to nearly 43 years.

Former presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been in prison since 2016 for his political speeches despite the European Court of Human Rights ordering his release, received the longest sentence of 42.5 years on terrorism charges. A total of 11 people were acquitted by the court.

The case dates back to 2014, when the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whose supporters are mostly Kurds, called on the government to help the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani in Syria defend against a siege by the jihadist group Isis.

Thousands of people then took to the streets in Turkey, and 37 people were killed in clashes with police during three days of unrest.

The trial was seen as part of Turkey’s crackdown on the Kurdish political movement after a peace process between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) collapsed in 2015. Thousands of Kurdish activists were imprisoned.

Erdoğan has described the HDP as the political wing of the PKK, an armed group designated a terrorist organization by the US, UK and EU after waging a four-decade insurgency in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast that numbered tens of thousands Lives have cost lives.

Prosecutors in the trial accused the HDP of organizing the 2014 protests on the orders of the PKK.

The PKK’s fight inside Turkey has largely come to a standstill in recent years, although it claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Ankara in 2023. The Turkish military regularly attacks the group and its affiliates in northern Iraq and Syria.

The HDP and its successor party, the Party for Equality and People’s Democracy (DEM), deny any ties to the PKK and are calling for a negotiated end to the conflict. DEM is the third largest political party in the Turkish parliament.

DEM co-chair Tülay Hatımoğulları Oruç accused the court of acting on behalf of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party and its far-right partner.

Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch, said the prosecution of elected HDP officials and leaders has deprived millions of voters of democratic representation and violated the right to political expression.

She added: “It is a political process. . . The justice system in Turkey is used as a blunt club against opposition voices.

“As long as this remains the case, there can be no credible talk of any weakening or improvement in the overall legal environment.”

Demirtaş, who was co-chair of the HDP in 2014, was convicted of, among other things, undermining the unity of the state and terrorism propaganda.

Among those found guilty was Ahmet Türk, the 81-year-old mayor of the city of Mardin, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for membership in a terrorist organization.

Figen Yüksekdağ, a former HDP leader, was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.

A DEM official said all those found guilty would appeal. Many are already in prison on separate charges, while a handful have been released on appeal or because they have served time in custody.

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