English Lawyer Owen writes about Demirtaş trial

This trial is clearly of the utmost importance for the political future of Turkey, said Owen.

English lawyer Margaret Owen is in Ankara to attend the sixt hearing of the case against HDP’s former co-chair Mr. Selahattin Demirtaş who was arrested on 4 November 2016 together with co-chair Ms. Figen Yüksekdağ and seven other MPs. Demirtaş has been in pre-trial detention in Edirne Prison since his arrest.

Lawyer Bowen wrote a blog of the hearing. 

Here is the text:

Ankara December 1

I, Solicitor-Advocate Ali Has and Thomas Phillips from the Liverpool University, have arrived in snowy Ankara to attend the sixth hearing of the case against HDP’s former co-chair Mr. Selahattin Demirtaş.

This trial is clearly of the utmost importance for the political future of Turkey, and is taking place amidst a backdrop of other significant developments which are creating extreme tensions and challenges not just for the country, but for the EU, and indeed the world.

 For example, last month the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Demirtas should be immediately released from this lengthy pre-trial detention pending an appeal of his case. But President Erdogan declared Turkey was not bound by this ruling, and called it « politically motivated ».

Thé EU’s Foreign Affairs Representative, Federica Moghenni, déclared that the ECHR does have jurisdiction in Turkey, since it is a Council of Europe member and therefore the ECHR is embedded in Turkey’s domestic law.

The consensus from the EU Parliament, the Court and the Council of Europe is that his imprisonment was intended to keep him from completing in the Presidential election where he was a candidate. It was politically motivated.

This case today against Demirtaş consists of the merging of 31 summary proceedings, each having separate criminal charges. All of these files consist of press statements and speeches that he made as a politician between 2016 and 2017 and which the Prosecutor alleges are evidence of terrorism and supporting the still terror-listed PKK.

However, on September 7 (see my previous blog) he was separately charged with “making terrorist propaganda”, and sentenced to 4 years 8 months in prison. Sentences of under 5 years are not eligible for appeal, but a convicted person cannot stand for election to parliament. This case should have been merged with the others addressed today, but this way, the authorities were able to get a rapid conviction and remove Demirtas, they hoped, for ever from the political arena as well as circumventing the outcome of the ECHR.

Travelling towards the Silvan F Type Prison complex, an hours drive from Ankara we international observers are pessimistic about our chances of being allowed entry to the court house. We’d already been warned of problems and advised to ask our respective embassies to intercede for us to get accreditation. Our fears seemed justified when our car was stopped at a road block and our passports examined against some list the police held.

The Court Room can hold 500 people and is built within the comprehensive Sincan Prison complex which houses 20,000. Its like a city, with buildings for men, women and even children. On arrival, all seems chaotic. There is a massive police presence, everyone holding pieces of paper, ID cards, jostling , pushing and trying to get in, and at first we are all turned away. And then, miraculously, 4 of us are admitted, Ali Has, and I from Uk, and the Spanish and Norwegian observers.

We find ourselves in this huge courtroom. The judge, co-judges and prosecutor so far away we cannot make out their expressions. Some 150 defence lawyers line one side of the room. There are masses of police and jandarma all around us. There are some empty seats in the middle, for the press, but no journalists are there. This is not surprising since so many independent papers have been closed down.

We see the elegant figure of Demirtas standing in front of the judges and for the next three hours he is on his feet, without a note, but waving various papers at the judges to illustrate his argument. We are mesmerised by his oratory (though I cannot understand his words and am dependent on my colleague, solicitor Ali Has’ whispered translations), by his passion, he appears heroic, even Shakespearean in his stature. We are impressed also that he can put on this performance having suffered so much in his two years of incarceration, and following his journey here from his prison in Edirne.

Today, claiming the right to speak in Kurdish, as his « mother tongue” , his main demand is that the Judge and Prosecutor “withdraw” from this case since they have shown so clearly they are not impartial, but are servants of the President and the AKP. 

“You are unable to try me in a fair and professional way. You have treated false and fabricated evidence as if truth. These lies are shown in the ECHR files. On other occasions you have have denied me access to the courts citing “security reasons”, while other detained MPs have been permitted to attend their trials. You chose the AKP over my freedom. You have shown your total loyalty is to the government , but if I had had my freedom and been outside during the Referendum, your party, the AKP would not have won”

Demirtas continued throughout the morning to give endless examples of how deferent the judiciary was to Erdogan, “doing up their buttons“ when they met him, as a sign of respect. He ended his speech saying“ even if I reach 90 I will never request a release from you for I am a political prisoner and you have demonstrated your own lack of independence”.

The judge never interrupted him, but let him continue uninterrupted. Maybe he too was mesmerised, like we were, by this handsome, fine, brilliant man.

After the lunch break, 16 of his lawyers argued as he had for a new Judge and Prosecutor, each one deploring the descent of Turkey into a dictatorship which had abandoned the Rule of Law, an independent judiciary, had imprisoned thousands, sanctioned torture, destroyed a free press and freedom of association. Like Demirtas, they stood in solidarity with Leyla Guven, the imprisoned former MP, now in her 37th day of her hunger strike, to secure the release of Abdullah Ocalan.

One by one they gave examples of how Turkey was breaching it’s own laws, and was no longer a democracy. One defence lawyer scolded the judge «  You should résign from your profession and instead sell lemons, just like the academics whose lives you have ruined ( referring to the many academics sacked from their jobs because they signed peace petitions) are now having to do.

At one point during the afternoon tempers broke, the judge shouting at the lawyers, and even observers , MPs, joining in. Several lawyers had been forced to stand, even though there were 9 empty press seats they might have used. Only press with an AKP badge could have got in, so the police brought in some men as if they were press, but it turned out they were undercover police. A woman MP observer who had joined in the shouting was ordered by the Judge to leave the room but she refused, to loud applause. “Bagirma, Bagirma, Bagirma (be quiet) everyone was shouting. The judge gave up. Police started to carry spare chairs up to seat the lawyers. All the time jandarma and police occupied about 50 chairs.

The Court adjourned, we were asked to leave. Later we learnt that of course the Judge and Prosecutor would not withdraw. Tomorrow we will find out whether this decision can be appealed to a higher court. If so, this trial will be adjourned. If not, the hearing continues on the actual charges in the indictment.

Later in the evening at the HDP office we had a briefing. We were thanked for our presence, and urged to do all we could to muster support in our own countries for those here struggling for democracy, justice, and freedom.

But just today the news that in a few days Erdogan will attack east of the Euphrates in Syria cast a further shadow on the future here. The resumption of the peace process is what is wanted and needed, and goes to the heart of Demirtas’ hopes and policies, but the future does not look promising, as every European country has its own géo political agenda that somehow allows Turkey to go down to these anti-democratic depths.