Turkey: Kurdish Opposition Accuses Erdogan of Torturing Party Leader in Prison

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - 2016/11/17: A Kurdish protester holds up a banner for Demirtas at a Kurdish march in Brussels against Turkeys policy. (Photo by Frederik Sadones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Frederik Sadones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty

Officials in Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have accused the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of “overt… torture” in the case of the head of their party, Selahattin Demirtaş, arrested in November on charges of aiding terrorism.

Demirtaş has requested that the government remove him from solitary confinement and allow him to serve his time behind bars before his trial near another HDP lawmaker arrested alongside him, Abdullah Zeydan. Zeydan is being kept in the same prison as Demirtaş, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, but the men are being kept far from each other.

HDP deputy Meral Danış Beştaş protested on Tuesday that the way the men are being imprisoned is a violation of human rights. “Isolation is a form of torture and our lawmakers and co-chairs are being overtly subjected to torture,” she said. “There is isolation, restrictions and lawlessness in every sense.”

“We are here today for Demirtaş’s prison conditions. Unfortunately, he is still being kept in isolation alone. Despite the fact that Zeydan is also serving here, Demirtaş’s and his requests to stay together were rejected,” she noted, adding that police appear to be limiting Demirtaş’s ability to write letters to the outside world to prevent him from reaching out to human rights activists and politicians in Europe.

“The fact that the co-chair of Turkey’s third biggest party is kept under torture and restrictions doesn’t do anything to benefit Turkey, and Turkey needs to rectify its mistake as soon as possible,” Hurriyet quotes Beştaş as insisting in her public remarks.

In addition to having his ability to reach out to allies in the international community limited, the outlet Kurdistan24 report that members of the European Parliament attempted to visit Demirtaş in prison in Edirne and police refused to allow them through. The European MP’s represented the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and visited Edirne to ensure that Demirtaş’s detention did not violate his human rights.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has lost popularity since the rise of the HDP, has protested that the pro-Kurdish minority party’s ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group, are too close. On November 4, Turkish police arrested Demirtaş, his co-chair Figen Yuksekdag, and nine other HDP legislators. Including more arrests of HDP members the next day, a total of over a dozen HDP representatives were put behind bars that week.

Demirtaş is facing charges of “aiding terrorism,” along with an investigation into his presence at a prayer ceremony in southern Diyarbakir, home to much of the nation’s Kurdish minority, at which PKK members were also present. The organizer of the ceremony is facing up to five years in prison for “disseminating terrorist propaganda,” according to the anti-government newspaper Cumhuriyet.

Yeni Safak, a pro-Erdogan publication, reported this week that Demirtaş is also facing charges for “insulting Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu,” a charge that carries another two years in prison. In accusing Soylu of manipulating the votes in the latest national parliamentary elections, prosecutors argue Demirtaş “exceeded the limits of freedom of expression and had intended to humiliate Soylu.”

Demirtaş may also face charges of “insulting the president,” a crime in Turkey, after describing Erdogan as “an extension of ISIS” and accusing him of wanting to “establish a caliphate” in Turkey.

Demirtaş and his fellow legislators were arrested shortly after the AKP-controlled Parliament passed a law stripping its members of legislative immunity at Erdogan’s request. “Nowhere in the world can you see a politician backing a suicide bomber,” Erdogan said of HDP legislators in May, in an event promoting the removal of immunity.

Following the arrests of the HDP co-chairs, Erdogan issued a speech in which he accused all of Europe of “aiding terrorism” and said of the arrests, “I don’t care if they call me a dictator… it goes one ear and out the other.”


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