Tuesday 13th February 2018
Written by Margaret Owen, International Trial Observer and Barrister
Last night, after landing in Turkey, I learnt that one of the newly elected co-chairs of the HDP (the Peoples’ Democratic Party) is now under investigation and facing terrorist charges. Pervin Buldan (pictured) and Sezai Temelli were elected to their positions as Chairs of the HDP at the party’s Sunday Congress that took place in Ankara. It is intended for them to replace the imprisoned former HDP chairs, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdağ. Another prominent HDP lawmaker and the party’s deputy for Ankara, Sirri Sureyya Onder (pictured), is also being investigated.
Upon arriving at the HDP offices, Ali Has (my Turkish speaking colleague) and I learnt that on Sunday over 37,000 people had attended the Congress, packing the large football stadium where it took place, with many attendees having to gather outside. Kurds and their supporters had travelled to Ankara from all over Turkey, in spite of security agents apparently delaying the buses, and performing random searches on the passengers. The stadium was reportedly surrounded by armed riot police and by Sunday night 666 people had been arrested.
An order has reportedly been made by the chief prosecutor to investigate Buldan and Onder as the first step in collecting evidence for an indictment on criminal charges for allegedly “carrying out terror propaganda, inciting grudges and provoking enmity in the public.” According to the prosecutor’s office, the two lawmakers are being investigated after images of the jailed PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) leader Abdullah Ocalan were shown during the Congress. Buldan also pleaded for peace talks to be revived between Turkey and the PKK, that the AKP (the Justice and Development Party) had broken off in 2015. The PKK is a group still listed as a “terrorist” organization even though it formerly retreated from using violence, and has sought peace dialogues since 2011.
Furthermore, Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law is being used to investigate Buldan on the grounds that during a speech she made at the Sunday Congress, she declared that Turkey’s current attacks against the Kurds in Syria violates international human rights and humanitarian law. Both Buldan and Onder are also being probed over allegedly making statements against Turkey’s military operations in Afrin.
Buldan and Onder, although elected sitting members of Parliament, are at grave risk of joining Demirtas and Yüksekdağ in pre-trial detention. Already there are at least 20 Kurdish MPs in prison.
Further bad news arrived as I was settling down to supper. An HDP staffer informed me that Serpil Kemalbay, who was elected as co-chair to serve when Figen Yuksedag was arrested in November 2016, has been detained this afternoon. It is said that the anti-terror police broke down the doors of her Istanbul house in the early hours of Tuesday but she was in Ankara. Kemalbay went to the police station voluntarily and turned herself in, but was forcibly detained, and as I write, she will spend the evening being questioned by the authorities. It is unknown how long she will remain in police custody for but it looks likely to be up to 7 days.
It is this tense, political atmosphere in which Demirtas’ trial will take place tomorrow. Although the names of every member of the international observers delegation have been submitted to the authorities, in this heightened state of emergency, we must be prepared for the unpredictable. We are told that this Wednesday Demirtas’ lawyers will be making a speech in his defence, so that the trial can continue to the following day. Let us hope we are admitted so we can properly report on proceedings for the readers of this blog and for the international community in general.
Image source: www.milligazete.com.tr