A Turkish court on Monday opened the trial of dozens of members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic People Party (HDP), including its former leader, over protests which broke out during an Islamic State assault on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani in 2014.
Thirty-seven people died in the protests, which were triggered by accusations that Turkey’s army stood by as the ultra-hardline militants besieged Kobani, a border town in plain view of Turkey.
The HDP says this week’s case is another step by authorities to damage the party after a top prosecutor filed a case for the party’s closure last month over alleged links to Kurdish militants.
The 108 defendants, including Selahattin Demirtas, one of Turkey’s most prominent politicians, are charged with 37 counts of homicide and disrupting the unity and territorial integrity of the state.
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.