Turkey… 42-Year Prison Sentence for “Kurdish Obama”

A Turkish court has sentenced the former leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, Selahattin Demirtaş, following violent protests in 2014 denouncing the siege of the predominantly Kurdish city of Kobanê in northern Syria by the terrorist organization ISIS, according to local media.

Demirtaş, imprisoned since 2016 and having previously competed twice in presidential elections against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was convicted of dozens of crimes, including undermining the unity of the state and the integrity of its territory.

The court, located in Sincan on the outskirts of the capital Ankara, also sentenced the former co-chair of the party, Figen Yüksekdağ, to 30 years and three months in prison, according to the private television channel “NTV” and the “Media and Law Studies Association” (MLSA).

Following the hearing, several deputies from the Peoples’ Democratic Party raised pictures of the imprisoned leaders in the National Assembly.

The “Media and Law Studies Association” stated that, fearing unrest after the verdicts, at least 14 southern provinces, including large Kurdish and Syrian communities, imposed a ban on protests for four days.

The court also ordered the release of some politicians, including Gültan Kışanak, the former mayor of Diyarbakır, but handed down prison sentences to many others.

Defense lawyers stated they would appeal the court’s decisions, which came after recent remarks by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about political “flexibility” following his party’s defeat in the local elections on March 31, according to AFP.

The case against former members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, including Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ, dates back to one of the darkest periods of the Syrian war that erupted in 2011.

37 people were killed in violent protests in Turkey in October 2014 following a call by the Peoples’ Democratic Party to protest the Turkish government’s refusal to intervene to prevent the fall of Kobanê to ISIS.

In 2015, the Syrian Democratic Forces retook Kobanê from ISIS with support from the United States.

Media have portrayed Selahattin Demirtaş as the “Kurdish Obama,” and he ran in the Turkish presidential elections against Erdoğan in 2014, then again in 2018 from prison.

After his conviction in 2018 to four years and eight months in prison for “terrorist propaganda” as part of this case, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Ankara to release him “as soon as possible,” stating that his imprisonment aimed to “stifle political plurality.”

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