22 people in Van sentenced to more than 137 years in prison

A Turkish court sentenced 22 people who were detained in Van in 2019 for being a delegate of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) to a total of 137 years and 6 months in prison.

The final hearing of the lawsuit against 24 people accused of "being a member of a terrorist organization" was held at 5th High Criminal Court in Van province on Tuesday.

The court sentenced 22 people to 6 years and 3 months in prison each, while two people were acquitted.

Those who received jail time are as follows: Hakan Demir, Abdulsettar Güneş, Ahmet Kaya, Ayfer Gelibolu, Baha Soyyiğit, Bazi Aslan, Beritan Tayan, Cemil Duman, Çetin Uyar, Medine Tufan, Mehmet Ali Sönmez, Ramazan Duman, Songül Taş , Elif Yiğit Akkuş, Fevzi Çelenk, Gülay Yılmaz, Gürsel Yamaç, Hakan Demir, Hamdi Bayhan, Hatice Toklu İçten, İbrahim Irmak and Kaniye Şeker.


The Democratic Society Congress (ku. Kongreya Civaka Demokratîk - tr. Demokratik Toplum Kongresi - DTK) functions as an umbrella organisation of political parties, civil society organisations, religious communities as well as women's and youth organisations. It sees itself as a social counter-draft to state structures, which - based on councils and grassroots democracy - develops concepts for the self-organisation of the population and alternatives for local self-administration. The DTK consisted of about 1000 delegates, 60 per cent of whom were directly elected by the population and 40 per cent of whom were nominated by civil society organisations and is divided into commissions. Both within the umbrella organisation and in the district councils and city councils, there is no quota of women, but a gender quota. This means that the proportion of women or men may not fall below 40 per cent.


Proposed by Abdullah Öcalan as early as 2005 as a project for the democratic organisation of society, large discussion meetings were initially held until the first general assembly was organised the following year. On 14 July 2011, a congress took place in Amed with over 800 participants from all ethnic, political and religious structures in Kurdistan. Following the joint declaration of the assembly, Democratic Autonomy was proclaimed. The published draft model lists eight dimensions: the political, the legal, the self-defence, the cultural, the social, the economic, the ecological and the diplomatic. The statute does not follow the laws of Turkey, but takes the democratic participation of the population as its basis.


Although the DTK, as the highest body of the Democratic Autonomy, was criminalised and subjected to investigation proceedings immediately after its founding congress, the Turkish government worked intensively with the umbrella organisation between 2005 and 2014 to jointly negotiate the then possible peace process. The DTK was even asked by the AKP to work on a new constitution for Turkey. The then co-chair Hatip Dicle, who now lives in exile in Europe, was also part of the so-called "Imrali delegation", which had taken on a mediating role between Abdullah Öcalan and the Turkish government as part of the solution process. Even after the then prime minister and current head of state Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unilaterally broke off the peace negotiations in summer 2015, the DTK was not banned. In the meantime, countless criminal proceedings are underway against the delegates.


The Turkish government's action against the DTK is symptomatic of the climate of legal uncertainty in Turkey. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in its ruling of 22 December 2020 on Selahattin Demirtaş, not only ordered the release of the former HDP leader, but also stated that the DTK is a legal organisation and that activity on its behalf could not be evidence of membership of a terrorist organisation. The Turkish state systematically ignores ECtHR rulings and thus alleged and real delegates of the DTK are arbitrarily criminalised as PKK members and sentenced to long prison terms. Yet the DTK remains legal even in Turkey. No ban proceedings have been initiated, nor is there a presidential decree.