Selahattin Demirtaş sentenced to 42 years in prison

Jun 3, 2024

PEN Sydney condemns the sentencing of Kurdish writer and opposition politician in Türkiye

“PEN International utterly condemns the shocking sentencing of writer and honorary PEN member Selahattin Demirtaş to 42 years in prison. That he continues to languish behind bars despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling for his release makes a mockery of what is left of Türkiye’s justice system. Demirtaş has already been unjustly detained for seven-and-a-half years, far away from his family and loved ones. This verdict is yet another tragedy for the rule of law in Türkiye. We will continue to stand alongside Demirtaş and all unfairly imprisoned writers until they are free”, said Burhan Sonmez, PEN International President.

17 May 2024: The authorities of Türkiye should release writer, opposition politician and honorary PEN member Selahattin Demirtaş immediately and unconditionally, PEN International said today, following his unfair sentencing to a combined 42 years in prison on spurious grounds. Anti-terrorism laws should not be used to silence critical voices.

On 16 May 2024, the Ankara 22nd Heavy Penal Court found Selahattin Demirtaş guilty of ‘aiding in undermining the unity and integrity of the state’, ‘incitement to commit a crime’ and ‘making terrorist propaganda’, sentencing him to a combined total of 42 years in prison. Former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Demirtaş was amongst 108 HDP members charged as part of a probe into deadly protests that took place across Türkiye from 6 to 8 October 2014, which began over accusations that the Turkish army stood by as Islamic State militants besieged the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane. The trial, which started in April 2021, is widely seen as politically motivated, with the HDP facing a potential ban in a separate case. Former HDP co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ was sentenced to 30 years and three months in prison. Many other senior HDP figures were convicted, charged with 29 offences including homicide and harming the unity of the Turkish state. Some of the defendants were acquitted. The HDP denied all charges.

Selahattin Demirtaş has been detained since 4 November 2016 on trumped-up anti-terrorism grounds. In two separates cases, Demirtaş was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison in September 2018 for allegedly carrying out terrorist propaganda during a speech he gave in 2013, and sentenced to a further three years and six months in prison in March 2021 for ‘insulting’ President Erdoğan. New terrorism charges were brought against Demirtaş on 20 September 2019 as part of the ‘Kobane case’. To date, the authorities of Türkiye have failed to implement a December 2020 ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered the immediate release of Demirtaş.

PEN International and PEN Sydney have long been campaigning on behalf of Selahattin Demirtaş, notably featuring him in its 2021 Day of the Imprisoned Writer Campaign. In a resolution adopted by the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International in September 2022, PEN International specifically urged the authorities of Türkiye to end the prosecution and detention of writers and journalists on the basis of the content of their writing, including in support of Kurdish language and culture. The resolution further denounced the authorities’ removal and arrest of HDP local officials in the Kurdish populated towns and cities of Southeastern Türkiye, which deprived voters of their democratically elected representatives in parliament and local government. Political pluralism is essential to provide a real choice to voters.

Born on 10 April 1973, Selahattin Demirtaş wrote a collection of short stories while in prison entitled Seher (Dawn) (2017), which instantly became a best-seller and was translated into scores of languages, notably being awarded a PEN Translates award in 2018 by English PEN. His latest book Devran was published in 2019.

For more information about PEN International’s campaign for Selahattin Demirtaş, please see War, Censorship and Persecution, PEN International’s Case List 2023/2024, which documents 122 cases of persecuted writers worldwide, including Demirtaş.

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