ISTANBUL (Deutsche Welle) — Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has been detained for over three years in Turkey’s Edirne high-security prison despite scant evidence against him. Demirtas and nine other members of parliament for the HDP, which advocates for Kurds and other minorities in Turkey, were arrested on November 4, 2016, and charged with 33 counts, which include leading a terrorist organization, spreading terrorist propaganda and instigating violence against the Turkish state. Prosecutors are seeking a jail sentence of 142 years.
Earlier this month, Demirtas testified via video link from the facility and insisted that he is a political hostage and asked to be able to use his testimony to respond to the accusations against him. His demand was refused and the trial was adjourned to May 28, but not before he was mentioned a dark chapter in recent Turkish history. “One hundred and twenty people were imprisoned in the basements of Cizre,” he said. “There was a massacre. Civilians, babies and children died. … How long will our country continue to hide this?” He said he was accused of offending President Recep Tayyip Erdogan because he had dared to talk about this tragedy.
The tragedy took place in 2015, after civilians in the city of Cizre, in southeastern Anatolia, took refuge in the basement of a building as clashes raged between the Turkish army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
There are several charges against Demirtas, who was proclaimed innocent in one hearing before another court sentenced him to four years and eight months in jail for “terrorist propaganda.”
His lawyer Hadi Cin told DW that Turkey’s justice system is arbitrary: “In the legal proceedings against Demirtas and the others from the HDP, the mechanisms are very slow. However, when there’s an arrest warrant, suddenly everything goes very fast.”