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Turkey sentences 15 Kurdish politicians to more than 100 years in prison

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A court in southeast Turkey has announced its verdict in the trial of 15 local Kurdish politicians accused of terrorism, handing down sentences totaling close to 104 years in prison in total, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported.

The defendants, including former member of parliament Gülser Yıldırım, received prison sentences ranging from six years, three months to seven years, six months on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

They were put on trial over their connection to parallel city councils organized by the Democratic Regions’ Party (DBP) in 2014, which the court considered as evidence of active involvement in a terrorist organization.

It is common for Kurdish politicians in Turkey to face prosecution on terrorism-related charges due to their alleged affiliation with or propaganda on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

An armed separatist group waging war against the Turkish state for decades, the PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

However, the trials of Kurdish politicians are criticized by human rights groups for being politically motivated as they are typically based on speeches, commentary and attendance at peaceful gatherings as opposed to active involvement in armed violence.

Turkey’s anti-terror laws are often criticized for being overly broad and vague, allowing too much room for interpretation.

The country’s justice system is also described as operating under political control, particularly since the mass disbarment of more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors as part of the government’s response to a failed military coup in July 2016.

In a development that confirmed the erosion of the Turkish judiciary, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the 2023 Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in late October, dropping one place in comparison to the previous year.

After the abortive putsch, the government also increased its crackdown on Kurdish politicians, unleashed following the breakdown in mid-2015 of peace talks between Ankara and the PKK.

Since then, scores of elected Kurdish mayors were summarily ousted by the Interior Ministry and hundreds of politicians were put on trial on terrorism charges, most notably Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, who have been behind bars since late 2016.

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