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Turkey jails Kurdish leader for 42 years over 2014 unrest

Demirtas has been in jail in the western city of Edirne since 2016 facing multiple trials on terror-related charges [Getty/file photo]

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 militants 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 cases against former members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – including Demirtas and Yuksekdag – stem from one of the darker episodes of the 13 year-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 militants 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 a testimony in 2023, Demirtas slammed the case 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.

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”.

The 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.

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