Turkish court sentences Kurdish ex-MP to 22 years

·3-min read
HDP lawmaker Leyla Guven gained international attention by launching a 200-day hunger strike in 2018

A Turkish court on Monday sentenced a prominent Kurdish former lawmaker who went on a months-long hunger strike to more than 22 years in jail on terror-related charges.

Leyla Guven, an opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy who was stripped of her parliamentary immunity in June, was convicted of membership of a terror group and disseminating terror propaganda for outlawed Kurdish militants.

The 56-year-old gained international attention by launching a 200-day hunger strike in 2018 in a bid to end jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan's isolation by securing him access to his family and lawyers.

Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies as a terror group, has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 that has killed tens of thousands.

The government has jailed dozens of mayors and other HDP officials in the past year over the party's suspected links to the PKK, which it strongly denies.

The crackdown has alarmed global human rights groups and further strained Turkey's uneasy relations with the European Union, which is increasingly concerned by the nationalist policies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Guven was not present at Monday's court hearing in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir, and her whereabouts were not immediately clear.

Her legal team told AFP it would appeal the verdict. The court ordered Guven's immediate arrest.

- 'I uttered a scream'-

Ocalan has been serving a life sentence for treason on a prison island off Istanbul since his 1999 capture in Kenya by Turkey's MIT intelligence service.

Despite his almost complete isolation, he remains a dominant, almost legendary figure of the Kurdish insurgency and its sympathisers across Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

In May last year, after being allowed to see his lawyer for the first time in eight years, Ocalan called for an end to hunger strikes by thousands of jailed supporters who were surviving by drinking only salty and sugary water.

At the time of her strike, Guven was in custody for labelling the Turkish military operation against a Syrian Kurdish militia an "invasion".

She was freed under judicial control last year after serving a one-year term.

"I uttered a scream in the dark... I started by daring to die for this cause," Guven told AFP in an interview at her home last year when she was on the hunger strike.

Guven's daughter Sabiha Temizkan said her mother was convicted for her work as co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Congress (DTK), a civil society group which has not been banned by the Turkish state but remains under close scrutiny.

In a tweet, Temizkan called the Turkish government "the enemy of the law".

The left-wing HDP, which is parliament's second-largest opposition group, said the "hostile" verdict against Guven was aimed at "all Kurds and the entire opposition".

"Leyla Guven is a person of struggle who dedicated her life to peace. She is a monument of honour," the party said.

Both of the party's former co-chairs, including Selahattin Demirtas -- who ran against Erdogan in the 2018 presidential elections -- are currently in jail.

Demirtas has been convicted of disseminating terror propaganda and is facing other terror-related charges.


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