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Lengthy prison terms handed down to Kurdish leaders draw global condemnation

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An Ankara court’s verdict handing down lengthy prison sentences to dozens of Kurdish politicians, including imprisoned leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, has drawn widespread condemnation worldwide.

The court’s ruling is the latest development in the long-running Kobani trial, which concerns deadly protests in 2014.

Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was sentenced to 42 years, reduced from an initial aggravated life sentence. Yüksekdağ, also a former HDP co-chair, received a total of 30 years, three months.

The trial, which has lasted almost three years, involved 108 former HDP politicians accused of inciting protests that led to 37 deaths during the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

The HDP is the predecessor of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party).

Other noteworthy sentences included 10 years for Ahmet Türk, mayor of the predominantly Kurdish province of Mardin, and 13 years, four months for Ali Ürküt, a member of Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog RTÜK. Former HDP vice chair Alp Altınörs was sentenced to 22 years, six months, while Aynur Aşa received nine years. Former member of parliament Ayla Akat Ata was sentenced to nine years, nine months but was released pending appeal.

Many senior HDP figures were also convicted, with sentences ranging from 10 to 30 years. However, several individuals were acquitted, including former HDP deputy Altan Tan, former mayor Ayhan Bilgen and former deputy Aysel Tuğluk.

The verdicts have drawn sharp rebukes from international human rights organizations and political figures worldwide.

“Selahattin Demirtaş, Kurdish pacifist leader, has been sentenced to 42 years in prison. It is no surprise that we have once again witnessed the submission of Turkish justice to politics,” the Association des Juristes Franco-Kurdes (@AJKF_), an organization representing French-Kurdish lawyers, tweeted in condemning the verdict.

Nacho Sánchez Amor (@NachoSAmor), the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, also criticized the ruling.

“Today’s injustice to #Demirtaş says why @memetsimsek tours to sell the reliability of #Turkey’s economy fall flat. Such actions and a dysfunctional judicial system undermine Turkey’s credibility. The cost? No company can fully trust an environment where justice is constantly questioned,” Amor tweeted.

Aygül Berivan Aslan, a Kurdish-Austrian politician and member of the Austrian Green Party, expressed her outrage on X.

“Among those sentenced in this arbitrary trial are our friends, the former HDP co-chairs @hdpdemirtas and @FigenYuksekdag, as well as the entire then party executive board. Selahattin and Figen received over 42 years of imprisonment! This is unbelievable. 18 of the accused are in pre-trial detention. The prosecution demanded aggravated life sentences without the possibility of early release. Many received between 10 and 30 years of imprisonment. All this because they opposed the ISIL attack on Kobani and criticized [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s indifference towards ISIL. It is no coincidence that these human rights activists are being criminalized today. All this because they stood up for human rights and human dignity. This is a disgrace! Solidarity!” Aslan tweeted.

Thijs Reuten, a member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands, called for consequences.

“Turkey’s indefensible decades-long sentences against Selahattin Demirtaş and other @DEMGenelMerkezi [DEM Party] politicians must have consequences. The European Court of Human Rights ordered his release years ago. But Erdogan continues to destroy democracy. #FreeDemirtaş,” Reuten tweeted.

Nikolaj Villumsen, a member of the European Parliament from Denmark, urged the EU to act.

“Solidarity with Selahattin Demirtaş and @DEMGenelMerkezi! Today the former HDP leader has been sentenced to 42.5 years in prison. 23 other leading DEM Party members have also been convicted in this political trial. This has happened despite the clear ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. The EU must clearly condemn this attack on the democratic opposition in Turkey and put Erdogan under pressure to comply with his obligation to the European Human Rights Convention (@NewsEchr) and the Council of Europe (@coe)! Urgent action and solidarity are needed!” Villumsen posted on X.

PEN International, a worldwide association of writers, strongly condemned the sentences.

“PEN International utterly condemns the shocking sentencing of writer and honorary PEN member Selahattin Demirtaş to 42 years in prison. That he continues to languish behind bars despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling for his release makes a mockery of what is left of Turkey’s justice system. Demirtaş has already been unjustly detained for seven-and-a-half years, far away from his family and loved ones. This verdict is yet another tragedy for the rule of law in Turkey. We will continue to stand alongside Demirtaş and all unfairly imprisoned writers until they are free,” said Burhan Sönmez, PEN International president.

Ann Christin Linde, the former Swedish minister for foreign affairs, called for the verdicts to be revoked.

 

The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI), an advocacy group for Kurdish issues, condemned the sentences as politically motivated.

“The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) condemns the brutal sentences in the ‘Kobani Case’ against dozens of Kurdish politicians from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey. After years of politically motivated trials against 108 politicians from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), today the Turkish courts unjustly sentenced dozens of Kurdish politicians to lengthy prison terms. The so-called ‘Kobani Case’ is yet another display by President Erdogan and his radical government, which includes ultra-nationalists, to suppress Kurdish voices struggling for freedom and self-determination.”

The trial and sentences are seen as part of a broader crackdown on Kurdish political activism by Erdoğan’s government, which has taken an increasingly nationalist and anti-Kurdish stance since the breakdown of peace talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2015. The international community continues to call for the release of Demirtaş and other political prisoners, emphasizing the need for judicial independence and respect for human rights in Turkey.

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