Expecting former HDP co-chair Selihatten Demirtas to be present in the court today, and therefore enhanced security measures to deal with numbers of his supporters, we feared we would be denied admission to the trial.
This is a politically critical hearing, coming as it does shortly before the deadline (04.05.2018) for nominations for the Presidential election on 24th June. It is feared that if a Prison sentence is passed today, that it will render Demirtas’s candidacy meaningless, as the ultimate result of these proceedings may result in Demirtas being barred from political activity for at least five years upwards and thereby give the opportunity to other candidates to campaign on the basis that votes for Demirtas would be wasted.
We leave Istanbul at an early hour for that long drive to Silivri. We arrive at the prison complex greeted by a swirling mass of some 300 supporters, all trying to get into the court room.
However, as international observers we are given special treatment and will be admitted. One of the HDP MPs guides us to the front of the crowd. Once we have exchanged our passports and mobile phones for an official tag, our bags searched , we are in the lobby outside the court doors. There is great commotion and excitement. Everyone is guessing what will be the outcome today. It’s clear that the Court wants this case to be finalised as soon as possible, to oust Demirtas from politics, which would, say the HDP, be a disaster, while the defence hopes to get further adjournments. Each side is playing ‘cat and mouse’ with the complex judicial system processes.
But a rumour is spreading that Demirtas will not be here and there is much confusion until it is announced that he has submitted a medical certificate explaining that for health reasons he cannot make the journey. The trial will continue, with only his co-defendant, the Ankara MP, Siri Surreya Onder in court. It is unclear whether this absence is a defence tactic to draw out the proceedings , or that Demirtas is genuinely ill.
Although the court room is large and could easily seat hundreds, we and the supporters are restricted to 96 seats at the very back of the courtroom. So there is much jostling to gain admission. Some 150 defence Lawyers are seated to the side, and the hearing begins.
One after another the lawyers get up and make the same arguments they made two weeks ago. That this court has no jurisdiction to try this case. That Demirtas is still an MP, though in prison on remand, and the stripping of his parliamentary immunity was illegal. MP Siri Sureya Onder defends himself at length. Though far away from the judge’s podium, we can see him and the various defence lawyers speaking on the big screen.
The trial becomes a sort of theatre, as Onder draws laughter and applause when he asks the Judge “Do you know why am I being tried? Please explain to me clearly in layman’s terms what on earth I am doing here!”. He accused the judge of “wanting to end our struggle for justice and peace by giving us unlawful sentences. But understand, such decisions will have no impact on us, you can never stop our struggle and all these trials are political and indefensible in Law”.
He told the court that on May 4th the HDP will nominate Selihatten Demirtas as a Presidential candidate, whatever the decision today. He spoke of his co- parliamentarian Demirtas in glowing terms . »He is the hope and future of this country; he represents the true values of everyone. We will not allow you to manipulate the judicial system to destroy his right to offer himself for election”. He went on to warn the judge that « the public no longer have faith in your justice system due to the manner in which cases are now dealt with ».
« It is quite clear that this is a politically motivated trial » said one of the defence layers and continued « But at least have the courtesy of adjourning thé trial until after the elections due on the 24th of June 2018, and thereby prevent the judicial system being used by the ruling elite for their political gains »
As the arguments between judge, defendant and his lawyers got more heated there were two adjournments. The lawyers kept repeating their demand that an independent expert be appointed to examine the Newroz speech, and listen and read the original words as they were broadcast on various media channels. They pointed out that the court had no jurisdiction to proceed with the case, it should start again in another venue, since the two police officers and original prosecutor who initiated the indictment are all in prison and unable to give evidence.
As one lawyer after another stood up to defend their clients, and condemn the political basis for this indictment, the judge seemed to lose his temper. He ordered all the defence lawyers, save one, to immediately vacate the court room, whilst he adjourned the hearing for 10 minutes. Suddenly the scene turned ugly as a lines of jandarma (police),led by the Chief of Police, proceeded down the aisle to escort the lawyers out of the building. But the lawyers, all 150 of them, decided they could no longer perform their legal roles in such a setting, and walked out en masse, with their supporters clapping and shouting applause as they filed passed them to the exit. When the judge returned to his chair, every lawyer had vacated his place.
We, thé few observers, who included diplomats from the Swiss and Swedish embassies , were alone in the court room to hear the Judge adjourn thé trial till June 8th.
But the time left for Demirtas to be nominated as a Presidential candidate is narrowing. Although his party say by nominating him on May 4th, he can still stand for election on June 24th, but if he gets a prison sentence at the next hearing he is in trouble.
And for the defence layers of this country, how depressing must it be to fight a lost battle in a system devoid of impartiality, motivated by political gains and used as an extended tool of the ruling elite to assassinate the political careers of opponents. How distressing must it be to witness the only mechanism for justice is distributing injustice. How demoralising must it be to watch the erosion of the basic right of every individual for an impartial, independent fair trial.
And so the drama continues. We may return next month for the final act.