STEVE SWEENEY reports on the show trial of former People’s Democratic Party co-chair Figen Yuksekdag
THE long-awaited trial of former People’s Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Figen Yuksekdag starts in Ankara today with one key component missing — the defendant herself.
Yuksekdag was arrested during a series of co-ordinated night-time raids by the Turkish government in an anticipated move against HDP MPs in November last year.
The Morning Star ran the headline “Tyrant” as images of democratically elected politicians being rounded up by police and taken to prison were beamed across the world.
Many of them are still there on pretrial detention. All of them are being held on trumped-up charges of terrorism.
Yuksekdag is accused of “managing a terrorist organisation,” “making terrorist propaganda,” “inciting violence” and “violating the law of demonstrations and gatherings.” If she is found found guilty, prosecutors are seeking an 83-year jail term.
She is also facing terrorism charges for the speeches she gave in the Turkish Grand Assembly and her attendance at demonstrations for Kurdish rights.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses the HDP of funding a Kurdish insurgency against the government and supporting the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is deemed a terrorist organisation. The HDP denies the charges.
The former HDP co-leader is already serving a one-year jail term after she was found guilty of chanting slogans that incited violence at the funeral of Yasemin Ciftci, a member of the country’s Marxist-Leninist Communist Party, which the Turkish government also deems a terrorist group affiliated to the PKK.
A court ruling stripped Yuksekdag of her status as an MP soon afterwards — a move HDP said was “unconstitutional.”
She was expected for her second court appearance in an Ankara courtroom this morning. However late on Saturday afternoon, we received notice that Yuksekdag would not be attending the court room due to the “illegality” and abuse of process.
HDP officials told us: “Yukeskdag will not attend the trial on Monday due to all illegal implications during the court process. As you know, there is an attempt to hide the facts that will be revealed at the trial from the knowledge of public and international opinion.
“They provided a very small courtroom that would hold only 20 people. And they moved the trial to Sincan, almost 20km away from the city centre. And lastly the court delegation took a negative stance against our demand for the people to observe the trial freely.”
Yuksekdag’s message was clear. She said: “I will not accept this illegality. If our people, our executives, our members and our lawyers cannot come and listen to what I say freely, I will not participate in the trial statement.”
The first court date in July — 242 days after she was arrested — was adjourned amid chaos. International observers were barred from attending the court by a heavy police presence and the British delegation was subjected to harassment from the Turkish authorities throughout the day.
Human rights barrister Melanie Gingell explained: “We were stopped and ordered to leave our vehicle in the middle of the highway, close to the constitutional court where we were due to attend a press conference.
“We were held by heavily armed riot police at the side of the road for nearlyan hour before being allowed to rejoin our vehicle.”
She said that the hearing was delayed for two hours and the atmosphere was tense, with armed police filling the lobby of the courtroom.
We anticipate the potential for some difficulties today with large numbers expected to attend again. It is not clear whether we will be allowed in the courtroom.
However, we understand the trial will still go ahead.
Yukesdag is an important figure as a woman’s voice in Turkish politics and, as she is ethnically Turkish and not a Kurd, she is seen as a symbolic link between the two groups.
When I met HDP spokesman Osman Baydemir ahead of a special party meeting in Istanbul earlier this year, he told me the main reason for targeting Yuksekdag is to “sabotage the solidarity between the Turkish public and the Kurds.”
He said the stripping of her status as an MP was unconstitutional and will be challenged by the HDP, but, he added defiantly: “One day Yuksekdag will come back to her party.”
The chances of her receiving a free and fair trial are slim. This is a politically motivated trial designed and directed by the Turkish government to silence legitimate opposition.
Yukeskdag is being symbolically represented by 1,200 lawyers, who are taking a stand against the Turkish government’s attacks on opposition politicians.
Lawyers and the judiciary have also been subjected to purges, arrests and detentions under the state of emergency.
It was the lifting of immunity from prosecution for lawmakers which paved the way for her arrest and other HDP MPs in November last year.
The measure — which was supported by Turkey’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) — was politically motivated and a response to HDP’s electoral success after it broke through the arbitrarily high 10 per cent ballot threshold in June 2015.
Erdogan needed to remove political opposition to his plans for constitutional changes both inside and outside the Turkish parliament and moved against the HDP in November last year.
The HDP reports that nearly 8,000 members and hundreds of officials were arrested ahead of April’s constitutional referendum, which will grant Erdogan unprecedented powers as Turkey moves from a parliamentary to a presidential system.
The move against the HDP and Yuksekdag was planned and premeditated. It is an attack on democracy which should concern us all.
The crimes against the people of Turkey are well-documented. Hundreds of thousands of workers have been purged from their jobs under the state of emergency.
Teachers and academics have been sacked for signing a petition for peace. And according to a 2016 survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country in the world.
The continued and escalating war against the Kurdish population has seen whole towns and cities razed to the ground, thousands killed and a million people displaced.
We will not be silenced. As journalists, it is our duty to report the truth and expose the brutal reality of the Turkish state.
This is a country where crimes against humanity are being committed while the rest of the world turns a blind eye.
Democracy is on trial in Turkey. But we must say enough is enough.
Yuksekdag said in her first court appearance: “They demand one hundred years! If I had more lifetimes, I’d still do the same things. We have a cause of democracy and peace worthy of a century.”
We are all Figen Yuksekdag.
Steve Sweeney is a Morning Star reporter and part of the official British delegation to observe the trial — he is the only British journalist present at the court hearing.