Supporters of HDP and Selahattin Demirtas during a rally in Diyarbakir in September. File photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Appearing in court on Wednesday, Selahattin Demirtas slammed the crackdown on his HDP party as former co-chair Serpil Kemalbay began a hunger strike one day after her arrest on terror charges.
"In the past one and a half years, more than 3,000 HDP members have been arrested. Did HDP suddenly make a decision to commit crimes?” Demirtas, former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish HDP, said during a court appearance at Ankara’s Sincan prison.
He accused the ruling AKP party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using criminal means to targeting the party that has opposed Erdogan’s government and his constitutional reform that brought in a powerful presidency.
“They had to criminalize HDP to make a constitutional amendment, so they arrested us in an improper way,” Demirtas said.
HDP has criticized Erdogan for increasing “authoritarianism,” especially in the wake of the failed coup of 2016.
Demirtas also criticized the judges presiding over his case.
"So far, I have not got the slightest impression of a fair trial,” he said, and pledged that his party would “continue to work for the democratization of this country, whether we are inside or outside."
Demirtas, 44, was brought to court on charges of “leading a terrorist organization,” “inciting hate,” and “campaigning for a terrorist attack.”
His trial will continue on Thursday.
Arrested in November 2016, Demirtas appeared
in court for the first time last month.
As with previous hearings of his case, foreign observers were denied
entry to the courtroom.
German and Irish diplomats were among the international delegates denied entry.
Margaret Owen, an international human rights lawyer, was also refused entry to the court.
An outspoken supporter of Kurdish rights in Turkey, she slammed Ankara for “daily” arrests.
Kemalbay on hunger strike
Another former HDP co-chair, Serpil Kemalbay, began a hunger strike on Wednesday, one day after her arrest on terror charges, the party announced.
She was one of 17 people subject to arrest warrants issued last week on charges of opposing Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.
Kemalbay sent a message through her lawyer, pledging to continue her struggle.
"We will build a free, equal, democratic society where individuals do not submit to one another. We will struggle and establish together a life in peace. We will keep fighting inside and outside the prison. We will prevail. Women will prevail. Our peoples will win,” she said.
In May 2016, Turkey’s parliament passed a law lifting immunity from a select group of 138 MPs, including Demirtas and many other HDP members.
Ten HDP MPs are currently detained on terror-related charges, including Demirtas, Kemalbay, and another former co-chair Figen Yuksekdag.
Ankara alleges the party has ties with the PKK, a named terror group. HDP denies the charge.
With the arrests of its leaders, the party elected two new co-chairs at its congress earlier this month – Pervin Buldan, a Kurd, and Sezai Temelli, a Turk.
A day after their elections, Turkey’s chief prosecutor announced it was investigating Buldan and another HDP deputy, Sirri Sureyya Onder, for terror charges.
Updated at 10:53 pm