Selahattin Demirtaş sentenced for insulting former prime minister

HDP politician Selahattin Demirtaş, imprisoned in Turkey since 2016, has been sentenced to another prison term for allegedly insulting the former prime minister.

The trial of Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş for allegedly insulting former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, which has been dragging on since 2017, ended with a verdict on Monday. The 14th Criminal Chamber of the Mersin Regional Court sentenced the former co-chairman of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) to just under one year in prison. The prosecution had demanded the maximum of four years and eight months.

The background to the insult trial against the 48-year-old politician is criticism of the actions of the then Davutoğlu government in connection with the curfews and the military siege in Kurdish cities in the winter of 2015/2016. At a rally in the coastal province of Mersin in February 2016, Demirtaş had raised the issue of war crimes committed by the Turkish army against the Kurdish civilian population and saw the then Prime Minister Davutoğlu (formerly AKP, now GP) as being responsible.

Like President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Davutoğlu interpreted every statement against him and his policies as an insult to the head of government and sued Demirtaş. Demirtaş was not present in person when the verdict was pronounced but was integrated into the trial via a video conferencing system from the high-security prison in Edirne. "The speech I was accused of making was then, as now, a criticism of the sustained, gross and deliberate violations of the duties as prime minister," Demirtaş expressed. He said he had exercised the right granted to him by the constitution and stood behind his criticism.

Demirtaş's legal counsel referred to the freedom of speech of MPs and the principle of non-liability of MPs for statements made in the exercise of their office and demanded that the case be dismissed. The court rejected the request and sentenced Demirtaş to a prison term of eleven months and twenty days. The sentence was not suspended because the court saw "no positive prognosis" for the defendant. The sentence is not yet final.

Selahattin Demirtaş has been in prison for over five years. The then HDP leader was arrested in November 2016 along with nine other HDP MPs, including former co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ. Despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), he is not being released. In the main trial, the prosecution accuses him, among other things, of founding and leading a terrorist organisation, terrorist propaganda and incitement of the people. The indictment builds on 31 summaries of proceedings submitted to the Turkish parliament during his time as an MP for the removal of immunity. If convicted, Demirtaş faces up to 142 years in prison. In the trial surrounding the October 2014 protests against Turkish support for the jihadist militia "Islamic State" (IS) in the attack on the town of Kobanê in Rojava, Demirtaş is even facing up to 15,000 utopian years in prison.