Defence lawyers briefly walked out of court on Monday alleging unfair treatment at the start of a trial of members of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party over 2014 protests that began during an assault by Islamic State on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.
The defence lawyers said some of their colleagues had not been allowed into the courtroom for “arbitrary, unlawful” reasons at the first hearing in the case against 108 defendants, including Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) officials and members.
“We went outside with our colleagues so as to not become a party to this crime,” defence lawyer Mehmet Emin Aktar said outside the courthouse.
The defendants refused to respond to questions by the judge during the identification process without their lawyers present, saying their right to defence was being violated. Defendants connected via video link tapped their cameras and clapped in solidarity, the HDP said.
“Even though we are sitting in the defendant’s seat, we represent the people’s will,” said Selahattin Demirtas, former HDP co-leader and one of Turkey’s most prominent politicians.
All the defence lawyers were subsequently allowed in.
The HDP says this week’s case is another step by authorities to damage the party after a prosecutor filed a case for its closure in March over alleged links to Kurdish militants.
Thirty-seven people died in the 2014 Kobani protests, which were triggered by accusations that Turkey’s army stood by as the ultra-hardline Islamic State militants besieged Kobani, a Syrian border town in plain view of Turkey.
The 108 defendants, including Demirtas, are charged with 37 counts of homicide and disrupting the unity and territorial integrity of the state. They could be sentenced to life in jail without parole if convicted.
Twenty-eight defendants are currently in jail.
The indictment accuses the defendants of instigating the protests, a claim which the HDP denies.
“We will invalidate this conspiracy case, enlarge the fight for democracy, spoil the political power’s calculations and will certainly save this country from this authoritarian attack all together,” HDP co-leader Mithat Sancar said, speaking outside the courthouse in Ankara’s Sincan prison complex.
The HDP has come under increasing pressure from President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) and its Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) allies in recent years.
Those steps culminated in March when a top prosecutor filed a case with the Constitutional Court for the closure of the HDP over alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency.
The indictment was sent back on procedural grounds but can be re-submitted. The HDP denies the charges.
In December, the European Court of Human Rights called for Demirtas’ release, saying he had been held for more than four years in prison to limit pluralism and debate. It said the evidence did not back up the terrorism charges directed at him.