Washington Kurdish Institute
On July 7, 2017 the jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, a democratically elected member of parliament and the co-chair of the progressive Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), refused to be delivered from the jail to his court hearing because he was unwilling to appear in handcuffs. He stated that this action was immoral and illegal, citing his immunity. Furthermore, the way from the jail to the hearing was a great distance and wearing handcuffs would have been uncomfortable, if not painful. There has been no reason to believe that Mr. Demirtaş would be a flight risk, and thus the use of handcuffs would have no functional necessity and were intended to be used only to demean him. Upon hearing that Mr. Demirtaş refused to be handcuffed and would not attend the hearing, his lawyers left the court in protest.
According to Turkish law, Selahattin Demirtaş should have parliamentary immunity which prevents prosecution from all but the most heinous of legal violations. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), headed by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, led the movement to strip this legal immunity from certain members of parliament, which led to an all-out brawl in parliament itself, and elicited intense criticism domestically and internationally.
Mr. Demirtaş, a lawyer by training and former presidential candidate, led the HDP’s successful general election campaign in June 2015, winning over 13% of the vote nationally, breaking the 10% electoral threshold and allowing the HDP to enter parliament as a party bloc. He is currently charged with “insulting the President” and “spreading propaganda of terrorist organization” based on his public speeches in Turkey. Mr. Demirtaş has denied these accusations and is facing an uphill battle during the legal process.
The Turkish state currently holds numerous of Kurdish lawmaker in prison in addition to thousands of Kurdish politicians, journalists, and academics.