Sincan (Turkey), Dec 7 (AFP) The co-leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party went on trial in Ankara today on charges of links to outlawed Kurdish rebels, after more than a year behind bars in a case his supporters say is politically motivated.
Selahattin Demirtas of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was first detained in November last year in a crackdown under the state of emergency that followed the 2016 failed coup.
Before his arrest Demirtas was considered one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s major rivals, a silky orator who has succeeded in bringing his party from the fringe into the political mainstream.
Demirtas, 44, is charged with “managing a terror organisation”, “making propaganda for a terror group” and “inciting criminal acts” among other accusations.
He faces up to 142 years in prison if convicted.
His trial got under way at the Sincan prison complex in Ankara province but Demirtas was not present.
The MP is being held in prison in the northwestern region of Edirne and the party has previously accused the justice ministry of preventing any court appearances by Demirtas.
The judge said he refused to appear via videolink.
Defence lawyers called for Demirtas’ acquittal, arguing what he was charged with was part of his legal political activity. But the prosecutor urged for his continued detention during the packed hearing.
Hundreds of supporters turned up outside the complex, chanting “oppression will not intimidate us” and “Selahattin Demirtas is our honour”, an AFP correspondent said.
A diplomatic source said representatives of foreign missions who wished to attend were not allowed to enter the court.
A dozen HDP MPs were detained at the same time as Demirtas, including former co-chair Figen Yuksekdag. She was stripped of her MP status in February and stepped down in May.
Nine HDP MPs are still in prison, including Demirtas and Yuksekdag.
Under Demirtas’ leadership, the HDP became the second biggest opposition party, winning support from liberal and left-wing Turks beyond its Kurdish base.
But the government accuses it of being a political front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group blacklisted by Turkey and its Western allies.
Analysts say Demirtas never succeeded in fully distancing his party from the PKK, though the HDP denies the claims.
It has rubbished Ankara’s accusations against its co- leader, saying Demirtas’ 501-page indictment was based on press releases, speeches, panels and similar legal and political activities.
Demirtas is ensnared in nearly 100 legal cases, but this is the most serious and the one for which he has been held in prison for almost 400 days. (AFP)
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.