A woman holds a photo of Selahattin Demirtas during a rally in Diyarbakir in April 2017. Photo: Ilyas Akengin/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Selahattin Demirtas, former co-chair of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was expected to appear in court at Silivri prison in Istanbul to defend himself against charges which date back to five years ago. But he did not appear due to health problems and he had declined to attend via video link.
A HDP official challenged the ruling party, AKP, to release Demirtas and race against him in the June 24 elections.
“Do not mix politics with the judiciary. Politics is practiced in arenas, not in courthouses. If you dare see Demirtas in arenas, then release him,” said Meral Danis Bestas, head of HDP bloc in the parliament.
HDP’s Ankara deputy Sirri Sureyya Onder was on trial alongside Demirtas. He appeared in the court, but his case was interrupted by the judge, according to Cumhuriyet newspaper.
Outside the court, a crowd of supporters chanted “Long live president Selo,” using a nickname for Demirtas.
The nature of the health problems that kept Demirtas out of court on Monday is not known. He has suffered in the past from a heart condition.
Demirtas and Onder are both charged with “propagating for a terror organization” based on speeches they gave for Newroz in 2013, during the peace process with the PKK.
Leaders and deputies of the pro-Kurdish HDP have been accused of having ties
to the PKK. HDP has denied the charge.
In a previous court appearance, Demirtas denied
he has ever taken orders from the PKK.
Bestas claimed that neither of them was able to present their defence in court, but the court has recorded that they have defended themselves.
She added that Demirtas is being treated as a hostage.
“Taking hostage of your rivals is not politics, but fascism. If you think that by taking Demirtas as a hostage you will make people surrender, you are wrong. We are all Demirtas.”
In Monday’s trial, the prosecutor demanded up to 7.5 years jail time for each
Demirtas’ trial will continue on June 8, with the defendant appearing via video link.