The fourth session of the fifth round of hearings in the “Kobane” trial was held on Oct. 22 at the Ankara 22nd High Criminal Court. Some 108 People’s Democratic Party (HDP) members, including the party’s former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, are being tried on a range of criminal charges in connection with the 2014 Kobane protests. At the hearing, former Batman HDP MP Ayla Akat Ata said that the government was criminalizing the defendants’ constitutionally ensured rights to assemble and campaign.
The Kobane trial is the largest in a series of trials targeting the HDP lawmakers in Turkey. Some 108 individuals are on trial over protests against ISIS attacks on the Syrian town of Kobane, near the Turkish border in 2014. At the time, the Turkish military was criticized for not interfering to protect the town.
HDP lawmakers, who the Turkish government claims have connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have been targeted since the collapse of peace talks between the PKK and the Turkish government in 2015, and especially since the coup attempt of July 2016.
At the trial on Oct. 22, former HDP MP Ata said the resolution process, as well as the women’s peace struggle of the HDP, was being targeted through her and the other defendants. She said that tweets and other evidence not considered illegal during the peace process, or during the election process leading up to the 2015 elections in which HDP passed the election threshold to enter parliament, were now being criminalized.
“I was in the first delegation to the island [İmralı Island where PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan is imprisoned] in 2013, then we continued this [peace] process with the women’s struggle,” she said. “But now the tweets we sent at that time, during that process, are being treated as crimes. When the state of affairs in Turkey changes, does the definition of crime also change?”
If the HDP politicians were not tried at the time for their actions or expressions, she said, then to be tried for them now is a violation of their “inviolable” human rights.
She further stated in her defense that she and the other defendants were being targeted for state-sanctioned activities guaranteed in the Constitution, including election campaigning. One of the instances included in her case file is an election visit to Urfa in eastern Turkey, with several members and supporters of the HDP.
“Going to a district in Urfa for an election campaign was the reason given for our arrest,” Ata said. “I was there with [colleagues] campaigning for the election. I didn’t even make a speech, but my being there was [given as] the reason for my arrest. My participation in an election campaign, which is guaranteed in the Constitution, is considered a crime.”
Ayşe Yağcı, a former HDP high council member who has been detained for a year, also spoke at the trial. She said no concrete evidence has been given for her continued detention and inclusion in the case, aside from a confidential witness statement. Even the video given as evidence, she said, is unrelated to the charges filed against her.
“Confidential witness statements are based on lies and self-defense. I do not accept these statements,” she said.
Another former member of the HDP high council, Bircan Yorulmaz, also spoke at the hearing. She said that despite her case taking up many pages in the 3,530-page case file, all of the accusations against her are based on sanctioned, HDP activities. The court claims she was in contact with the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD). However, Yorulmaz says the email in question was simply a call for help from the PYD, facing an onslaught from ISIS.
“How can an incoming email be a crime? How can an incoming email be a justification for detention? How can an email, the content of which was humanitarian, be used as evidence of a crime? It was an email asking for help against harassment and rape by ISIS [in Syria],” she said.
Former HDP deputy Sebahat Tuncel condemned the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government for carrying out judicial decisions based on politics, rather than law. While refusing to carry out the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision to release Demirtaş from jail, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling AKP government is allowing proven criminals out of prison. If the government followed the law and implemented the ECHR decision, Tuncel said, the Kobane trial would not even be happening.
Tuncel further stated that the oppressive measures taken against HDP lawmakers today are just an example of history repeating itself.
“History repeats itself, but each time we grow stronger and stronger,” she said. “Turkey is no longer a democratic state of law. We are faced with an authoritarian, fascist, monist administration. Everything depends on two sentences made by one gentleman. In one night, the Istanbul Convention is abolished, and another night, the officials of the Central Bank are dismissed. You can look at the examples of Hitler and Mussolini. They also had their supporters, but we saw their end. Ultimately, democracy and human rights will win, that's why we call it a struggle."
Prosecutors have used 29 different charges to target the 108 defendants, and have requested at least 38 life sentences for each of them. If convicted, the defendants could, collectively, face a total of 19,680 years in prison.