Turkish Court Sentences Demirtaş to Over 40 Years in Kobani Trial Verdict

Former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş sentenced to 42 years in prison in Kobani case, criticized by pro-Kurdish DEM Party as attempt to erase Kurdish politicians and blow to democracy.

Turkish Court Sentences Demirtaş to Over 40 Years in Kobani Trial Verdict
Photo Source: Katrin Bolovtsova via Pexels, February 11th, 2020.

23-05-2024

Middle East Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

On May 16th, a Turkish court sentenced Selahattin Demirtaş, former co-chair of the HDP (“Peoples’ Democratic Party”), to 42 years in prison in the Kobani case, where 108 individuals were being tried in connection with the 6th-8th October events related to the IS (“Islamic State”) massacres in Kobani village of Northern Syria. Figen Yüksekdağ, former co-chair of the HDP, was sentenced to 30 years and three months in prison. Former mayor of the Mardin province and prominent Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk was sentenced to ten years in prison. Former HDP representatives Ayla Akat Ata, Emine Ayna, and Ayşe Yağcı were each sentenced to ten years in prison for the crime of “being a member of an armed terrorist organisation.” 

Following these verdicts, demonstration bans were imposed for 14 days in the cities of Türkiye, where the majority of the population is Kurdish. 

Legal Timeline of the Kobani Case: What happened in ten years until the verdict?

2014

  • October 6th-8th, 2014: Kobani Protests
    • Large-scale protests erupted across Türkiye in response to ISIS attacks on the Kurdish town of Kobani in Syria. Demonstrators criticised the Turkish government's perceived inaction. 

2015

  • November 4th, 2016: Detention of HDP Leaders
    • Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, co-leaders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, were arrested along with several other HDP members. They faced charges related to terrorism and inciting violence during the Kobani protests. 

2020

  • September 25th, 2020: Indictment Issued
    • Turkish prosecutors issued a 3,530 page indictment against 108 individuals, including HDP members and supporters. The charges included instigating the Kobani protests and being linked to terrorist activities. 

2021

  • April 26th, 2021: Trial Commences
    • The trial began against the 108 accused, with significant attention on the charges' political implications and legitimacy. 
  • June 21st, 2021: European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) Verdict
    • The ECtHR ruled that Selahattin Demirtaş's pre-trial detention was unlawful, stating it was politically motivated, and ordered his immediate release. 
  • December 2021: Domestic Courts’ Response
    • Despite the ECtHR verdict, Turkish courts rejected Demirtaş’s release, citing ongoing investigations and the gravity of the charges. 

Reactions to the Verdict

The newly established pro-Kurdish DEM Party, formed after the closure of the HDP, has reacted strongly to what they deem a politically motivated decision by the Turkish courts. Current DEM Party Co-Chair Hatimoğulları described the verdict as a black stain on Turkey's judicial record, asserting that it is an attempt to erase Kurdish politicians.  "Today, at the Sincan courthouse, we witnessed a massacre of the law together," she said, further characterising the verdicts as amounting to a "political coup.” The case appears to be aimed at eliminating Kurdish opposition and representation rather than being genuinely related to the 6th-8th October events and Kobani. Hatimoğulları emphasised that the court's decision was not just a legal issue but a significant blow to democratic principles and justice in Turkey. Furthermore, On May 24th, the DEM Party issued a parliamentary inquiry, demanding an investigation into the alleged unlawfulness in the Kobani case. This request was subsequently rejected by the Parliament. 

Özgur Özel, co-chair of the main opposition party CHP, also condemned the verdicts against Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, calling them unacceptable. He argued that the case was inherently political. 

Sources and further reading

BBC, ‘Kobani davasında Selahattin Demirtaş'a 42 yıl, Figen Yüksekdağ'a 30 yıl 3 ay hapis cezası verildi, Kışanak tahliye oldu’, 15 May 2024 <Kobani davasında karar: Selahattin Demirtaş'a 42 yıl, Figen Yüksekdağ'a 30 yıl 3 ay hapis cezası - BBC News Türkçe> accessed 23 May 2024

Tele1, ‘Kobani kararının ardından bir ilde daha gösteri ve yürüyüş yasağı’, 17 May 2024 <Kobani kararının ardından bir ilde daha gösteri ve yürüyüş yasağı - Tele1> accessed 23 May 2024

BBC, ‘Kobani (6-8 Ekim) Olayları 2014'te nasıl başladı, sonrasında neler yaşandı?’, 25 September 2020 <Kobani (6-8 Ekim) Olayları 2014'te nasıl başladı, sonrasında neler yaşandı? - BBC News Türkçe> accessed 23 May 2024

HDP Europe, ‘Kobani Trial: This Court is all About Defending ISIS’, 25 May 2021 <Kobani Trial: "This Court is all About Defending ISIS" | HDP Europe> accessed 23 May 2024

LSE Blogs, Dr. Ozgur Heval Cinar ‘Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Selahattin Demirtaş v. Turkey (no. 2)’, 22 February 2021 <Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Selahattin Demirtaş v. Turkey (no. 2) | LSE Human Rights> accessed 23 May 2024

Human Rights Watch, ‘Turkey: End Abuse of Criminal Proceedings against Selahattin Demirtas’, 7 June 2022 <Turkey: End Abuse of Criminal Proceedings Against Selahattin Demirtaş | Human Rights Watch (hrw.org)> accessed 23 May 2024

BBC, ‘DEM Parti Kobani Davasi kararlarini nasil yorumluyor’, 18 May 2024 <DEM Parti, Kobani davası kararlarını nasıl yorumluyor? - BBC News Türkçe> accessed 23 May 2024

Reuters, ‘Turkey convicts pro-Kurdish party officials over 2014 Kobani protests’, 16 May 2024 <Turkey convicts former pro-Kurdish party officials over 2014 Kobani protests | Reuters > accessed 22 May 2024

Bianet, ‘Kobani davasi, HDP’yi kriminalize etme planinin bir parcasi’, 22 May 2024 <“Kobanî davası, HDP’yi kriminalize etme planının bir parçası” (bianet.org)> accessed 23 May 2024

Yenigun, ‘Kobani tartışması yeniden alevlendi: DEM Parti'nin önergesi reddedildi’,23 May 2024 <Kobani tartışması yeniden alevlendi: DEM Parti'nin önergesi reddedildi! - Yenigün - Haberler, Son Dakika Haberler ve Güncel Haberler (gazeteyenigun.com.tr)> accessed 23 May 2024