Monday 12th February 2018
Written by Margaret Owen, International Trial Observer and Barrister
On 4th November 2016, the Co-Chair of Turkey’s pro Kurdish political party, the HDP (the Peoples’ Democratic Party), Selahattin Demirtas (pictured) was arrested and kept in pre-trial detention at Edirne prison under the country’s anti-terror law. On Wednesday 14th February 2018, in Ankara Demirtas will appear before a court as part of his ongoing trial. I am a member of a delegation from the UK that hopes to observe proceedings as they unfold.
The last time Demirtas was before a court, in December 2017, I was among 40 international observers from 10 European countries (including MPs, MEPs, embassy officials and lawyers), who were refused entry to the courtroom in the Sinkan Prison Complex. Even though it was the Judges’ decision to grant us access, they were ultimately overruled by the Police and the Minister of the Interior. Demirtas’ other HDP co-chair, Figen Yüksekdağ, also faced trial last December and was returned to prison. Following her colleague, Yüksekdağ’s next trial is fixed for the week beginning February 19th.
The indictment against Demirtas is 501 pages long, of which 300 pages involve press releases and speeches he made in parliament, at conferences, panels, and in legal and political meetings. His criticisms of President Erdogan and the AKP (the Justice and Development Party) are in present day Turkey, under its State of Emergency, considered a crime, which has led him to being labeled as a “terrorist”, “traitor, or “enemy”. Furthermore, it is now the current practice for cases under the anti-terror law and article 301 to be continually, serially, adjourned, thus dragging out the detention of an accused person. This also provides opportunities to add fresh charges to an indictment dossier.
Demirtas’ lawyer, Ercan Kanar, has argued that this political trial violates both the Turkish constitution, in addition to domestic and international law. Over 70 of the elected HDP MPs are now behind bars, as are thousands of lawyers, academics, trade unionists, journalists, women’s rights activists, university students and school children who have criticized President Erdogan and the government.
My fellow delegates and I are arriving in Turkey amidst an increasingly tense situation. Since January, Erdogan has launched an offensive against Afrin, a canton of the North Syrian Democratic Federation, for allegedly using chemical weapons against innocent civilians. Among further exacerbating tensions are that in the last few days, the Kurdish Protection Units, fighting ISIS in Syria, have shot down a Turkish Fighter Jet.
Even though we have been assured by the HDP that we will be permitted entrance to the courtroom, since there is no rule of law, as in December 2017 we are still at the mercy of last minute arbitrary decisions by the government. Nevertheless it is of vital importance that we, the international observers, whether in or outside the court, are there to report on developments.
Image supplied by Margaret Owen