A Turkish court sentenced former pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtas to more than 40 years in jail on Thursday for instigating protests in 2014 triggered by an Islamic State attack on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

Another pro-Kurdish party leader, Figen Yuksekdag, was sentenced to just over 30 years in jail.

The verdict was likely to fuel political tensions in Turkey around their Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which could be ordered to shut down in a separate court case and has been succeeded in parliament by another pro-Kurdish party, DEM Party.

Defence lawyers and observers in the courtroom, in a prison complex on the outskirts of the capital Ankara, banged tables and chanted “Long live the resistance of HDP” and “Long live the resistance of Kobani” in Kurdish when the chief judge began to read the verdict.

Thirty-seven people died in the 2014 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.

Many other senior HDP figures were convicted among a total of 108 defendants, charged with 29 offences including homicide and harming the unity of the Turkish state. Some of the defendants were acquitted. The HDP denied the charges.

Prosecutors had sought 38 “aggravated life” sentences without parole in relation to the protest deaths. The trial did not begin until April 2021 and was viewed by the defendants and defence lawyers as a political case.

Speaking outside the courthouse after the trial, DEM Party co-chairs Tulay Hatimogullari and Tuncer Bakirhan denounced the verdicts as a “black stain” on Turkey’s judicial record, and an attempt at “erasing” Kurdish politicians.

Today, at the Sincan courthouse, we witnessed a massacre of the law together,” Hatimogullari said, and added the verdicts amounted to a “political coup”.

“There is no such thing as a judiciary remaining in Turkey anymore,” she added. “The decision taken by the court today has once again shown us that they side with ISIS and fascism. This verdict is null and void.”


Demirtas has been in prison since November 2016 on terrorism related charges but remains one of Turkey’s most influential political figures. He and Yuksekdag were among 18 defendants already in jail.

Critics say Turkish courts are under the influence of the government and President Tayyip Erdogan, claims that he and his AK Party deny.

In 2020, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey must release Demirtas, saying his rights, including freedom of expression and liberty, were being violated.

Facing the prospect of closure, the HDP regrouped last year under the banner of the DEM Party, parliament’s third-largest party.

Among the defendants was Sirri Sureyya Onder, a deputy speaker of the Turkish parliament from the DEM Party. Onder was acquitted by the court.

Ankara accuses HDP of ties to the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union. The HDP denies having any connections with terrorism.

The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict. A peace process between Ankara and the PKK fell apart in 2015 and in a subsequent crackdown on the HDP, thousands of its officials and members have been arrested and jailed.

In his final words before the verdict, defendant Alp Altinors said: “This is a conspiracy case aimed at criminalizing HDP activities. Calling to the streets is a call to exercise a democratic right.”

“This is a tweet case, the only act attributed to the defendants is tweeting. It is a conspiracy case that tries to get a life sentence for a tweet,” said Altinors, who was sentenced to more than 20 years in jail.

“Calling for democratic protest is not a crime,” he added. “It is not a crime to be a member of HDP.”