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Kurdish Leader Jailed For 42 Years Over 2014 Protests By Turkey Court

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A Turkish court on Thursday sentenced an ex-leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP party to 42 years in prison for his alleged role in deadly 2014 protests that erupted as Islamic State group jihadists overran the Syrian town of Kobane.

Already jailed since 2016, Selahattin Demirtas, 51, a two-time election rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was convicted for dozens of crimes including undermining state unity and the country’s integrity.

The court in Sincan on the outskirts of the capital Ankara also sentenced HDP’s former co-chair Figen Yuksekdag to 30 years and three months, private broadcaster NTV and rights group MLSA reported.

The court ordered the release of some politicians including Gultan Kisanak, former mayor of major pro-Kurdish city Diyarbakir in the southeast, but many others were handed jail terms.

The case against former members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — including Demirtas and Yuksekdag — stems from one of the darker episodes of the more than decade-long Syria war.

Thirty-seven people died in violent demonstrations against the Turkish army’s inaction in the face of an IS offensive against the largely Kurdish northern Syrian town.

The fighting was visible from the Turkish side of the border and many in the country’s Kurdish community viewed the army as complicit in the humanitarian disaster that followed.

The jihadists were driven out of Kobane in January 2015 by US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters that Turkey officially views as terrorists.

Turkey views the HDP as the political front of outlawed Kurdish militants who have been waging an insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.

The HDP blamed Turkish police for causing the deaths.

In 2023 testimony, Demirtas slammed the case against him as a “revenge” trial.

“There’s no single evidence about me. This is a case of political revenge, we were not legally arrested, we are all political hostages,” he said.

Demirtas has been in jail in the western city of Edirne since 2016, facing multiple trials on terror-related charges that Western governments view as part of Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissent.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly called for his release.

-‘Black stain’-

The court verdict against former leaders and members of the HDP — which faces a court case that could result in it being shut down — sparked protests.

Lawmakers from the DEM Party, which has replaced HDP in parliament, unfurled former party leaders’ portraits during a session in parliament on Thursday, tapping the tables in a show of protest while the party used the social media hashtag “Kobane is our honour”.

Diyarbakir governor’s office banned any protest in the city for four days.

DEM Party’s co-chair Tuncer Bakirhan slammed the verdict as “black stain in the history of Turkish justice”.

“We all witnessed a legal massacre here today,” Bakirhan said.

“Kurds and revolutionaries were tried to be erased from the political scene,” he added.

Prosecutors accused the 108 defendants of “attacking the integrity of the state”, and of crimes including looting and murder.

They sought an aggravated life sentence for 36 suspects including Demirtas on charges of attacking state unity and the country’s integrity.

Defence lawyers said they would appeal the verdict, which came after Erdogan spoke of a “softening” in politics, after his Islamic-rooted party suffered a historic defeat in the March 31 local elections.

“The politics in Turkey needs softening. We will do our part as before,” he said in an address on Wednesday.

The issue of political prisoners including leading civil society leader Osman Kavala reportedly came up during Erdogan’s rare meeting on May 2 with opposition CHP leader Ozgur Ozel, whose party retained the control of large cities including Istanbul and made major gains in the March vote.

On Thursday, an Istanbul court however rejected a request for Kavala to be retried.

The Paris-born philanthropist was arrested in October 2017 and sentenced to life in 2022 for allegedly trying to topple Erdogan’s government.

 A Turkish court on Thursday sentenced an ex-leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP party to 42 years in prison for his alleged role in deadly 2014 protests that erupted as Islamic State group jihadists overran the Syrian town of Kobane.    

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