Opposition leader jailed for 42 years in Türkiye

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Selahattin Demirtas was found guilty of inciting a deadly riot at the height of the Syrian Civil War

A Turkish court has sentenced pro-Kurdish opposition leader Selahattin Demirtas to 42 years in prison over his role in stoking deadly protests over the conflict in Syria. More than a dozen of Demirtas’ political allies were also jailed. 

Demirtas was convicted of a total of 47 charges, Turkish media reported, including conspiracy, incitement of violence, disrupting state unity, and engaging in propaganda on behalf of a terror organization. At 51 years old, Demirtas will likely die in prison if his efforts to appeal the sentence are unsuccessful.

Demirtas was one of 108 people charged in the so-called Kobane Trial. The case centered on the Syrian city of Kobane, where Kurdish militants, and Islamic State (IS) jihadists were battling for control of the city in 2014. Demirtas accused Turkish troops – who at the time were trading cross-border fire with the Kurds – of standing by while IS besieged the city, and of preventing the Kurds from fleeing.

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Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) supporters shout slogans and hold flags during a rally as part of Nowruz (Newroz). © Tunahan Turhan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Turkey’s top court accepts indictment to dissolve pro-Kurdish HDP party

As the leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Demirtas called for protests in predominantly-Kurdish regions of southern Türkiye. The demonstrations quickly turned violent and resulted in 37 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Two months before the protests, Demirtas had finished third in Türkiye’s presidential election. He went on to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the presidency again in 2018, conducting his campaign from behind bars.

Of the 108 people charged with orchestrating or participating in the protests, 18 were jailed on Thursday. Charges were dropped against another 12, while 18 were freed awaiting further court dates and 72 remain at large. Former HDP co-leader Figen Yuksekdag was handed a 32-year sentence for similar charges to those brought against Demirtas.

Testifying last year, Demirtas described the case as “political revenge” and his alleged co-conspirators as “political hostages.” The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly demanded his release.

Ankara, on the other hand, views the HDP as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Türkiye, the US, and EU all consider a terrorist organization. The PKK has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since the 1980s, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.


READ MORE: Türkiye at a crossroads: Is the Erdogan era over?

Proceedings are currently underway in Ankara to outlaw the HDP and to ban more than 450 of its members from politics. Despite condemnation from human rights groups, Turkish prosecutor Bekir Sahin stated in 2021 that the party’s dissolution was necessary as it had engaged in “activities aimed at destroying and abolishing the indivisible unity of the state.”

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