The Kobanî Case: Violating the right to a fair trial

Information note by our Foreign Affairs Co-spokespersons Feleknas Uca and Hişyar Özsoy regarding the latest developments in the Kobanî case:

In dialogue with HDP’s lawyers and legal affairs commission, we are writing this statement to inform you about alarming unlawful developments that undermine the possibility of a fair trial in the Kobanî case, which was launched against 108 people, including former co-hairs as well as all other members of the party’s Central Executive Board in 2014, based on bogus terrorism-related charges.

The first hearing of the sixth session of the Kobanî Case was held on 8 November 2021 in the Sincan Prison Campus in Ankara. It was marked by protests from lawyers and defendants, claiming the hearings are taking place unfairly.

The first political move by the government came on November 4, on the fifth anniversary of HDP’s former co-chairs and deputies, when the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) dismissed the presiding judge of the court without any formal excuse or justification. In light of the principle of tenure of judges, withdrawal of a judge from a case should be seen as abolishing constitutional guarantees and also the guarantees foreseen by the ECtHR. Such a decision and intervention in the court constitutes a clear political interference with the judiciary and destroys its independence and impartiality. It is against the law and removes the guarantee of a fair trial.

During the trial, each session has generally lasted two weeks, with each day’s hearing starting at ten in the morning and continuing until five in the evening. On 9 November, the court further decided to reduce the break between sessions to one week. This density of hearings constitutes ill-treatment for both the defendants and the lawyers attending the case. Normally, there should be a break of at least 2 or 3 months between each hearing. Thus, at the first hearing on November 8, the lawyers had made a demand to the court board that sessions should last a week and be separated by breaks of at least two months. And they stated that if this demand is not resolved, they will file a criminal complaint to the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) and will not attend the hearings until the HSK responds to their complaint.

The court’s rejection of the lawyers’ demand is a clear indication of the authorities’ insistence on ending the case as soon as possible. This insistence is political and derives especially from Devlet Bahçeli, General President of the MHP, the AKP government’s partner. Bahçeli stated, on 27 April, that “the decision that will lead the 108 defendants to have hard times should be taken in a short time and the HDP should be locked up and sealed by the law”.

On 11 November, the defense lawyers filed a criminal complaint to the Council of Judges and Prosecutors against the court members of the Kobanî Case for misconduct. But that same day, the court rejected all the demands of the lawyers and the defendants. The lawyers and defendants had refused to attend the court in protesting the hurry of the court, but the court continued the hearing in their absence. It is completely illegal for the court to continue the hearing and take decisions without lawyers and defendants. In a hurry to finalize the case as soon as possible, the court board, without any legal basis, decided to postpone the hearing to 29 November.

All these unlawful practices have taken place in the shadow of the ECtHR’s judgement on Mr Selahattin Demirtaş. The accusations against the HDP concerning the Kobanî protests have already been looked at by the ECtHR in their judgement on Mr. Demirtaş made in December 2020. The Grand Chamber’s judgement stated that “calls for Kobanî are not calls for violence”, and it added that “there is no causal relation between the calls made by HDP Headquarters and the events that took place, and the calls in question fall within the scope of freedom of expression."

We will finish this information note with a reminder of some basic facts about this case. It was filed against 108 people, including, among others, HDP former co-chairs, Mr Selahattin Demirtaş and Ms Figen Yüksekdağ, current co-chair Ms Pervin Buldan, several current and former HDP deputies and mayors, and all members of the HDP’s Central Executive Board in 2014. The case was launched as a counter move by the Turkish Government just two weeks after the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights made its final judgment and demanded the immediate release of Selahattin Demirtaş. The indictment demands more than 15,000 years in prison for Selahattin Demirtaş alone. The case is both crucial in itself and is being used by the government as a pretext to shut down the HDP and ban its executives from politics.

Twenty-four politicians are currently being held in pre-trial detention for the Kobanî case. Eight others have been released, but with restrictions. On 15 June, the court ruled for the release of four detainees, but with an international travel ban. The four were the suspended co-mayor of Kars, Mr Ayhan Bilgen, and three former Central Executive Board (CEB) members of the HDP - Ms Berfin Özgü Köse, Mr Can Memiş, and Mr Cihan Erdal. On 26 June, another CEB member, Mr Zeki Çelik, and former MPs Mr İbrahim Binici, Ms Emine Beyza Üstün, and Ms Emine Ayna were released with judicial control measures and an international travel ban.

Feleknas Uca & Hişyar Özsoy
HDP’s Co-spokespersons for Foreign Affairs
17 November 2021