DTK Co-Chair Leyla Güven is sent to prison

Sentenced to 22 years, 3 months in prison, Democratic Society Congress (DTK) Co-Chair Leyla Güven has been taken into prison.

Güven was sentenced in absentia to 22 years and three months imprisonment on Monday. Among other charges, she was accused of “forming and leading a terrorist organization” – meaning the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). During Monday’s hearing, the court also ordered Güven’s immediate arrest.

The HDP described the prison sentence against Güven as a concrete example of the use of enemy criminal law against Kurdish society. Upon her arrest at the home of HDP deputy Semra Güzel, Güven said, “I am not going anywhere. I will continue to do politics in this country, in prison or outside.”

Güven is co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) an umbrella organization of political parties, civic organizations, religious communities, and women’s and youth organizations that sees itself as a social counter-design to state structures and develops concepts for the self-organization of the population and alternatives for local self-government – based on councils and grassroots democracy.

Further charges brought against the Kurdish politician were “inciting the population to unlawful assemblies and demonstrations” and “unarmed participation in unlawful demonstrations that did not disperse despite being urged to do so.”

Güven has been targeted over her speeches at rallies and demonstrations against the Turkish invasion of the northern Syrian canton of Afrin in early 2018. The verdict against the DTK co-chair is based largely on the testimony of key witness Evindar Oruç. However, on the last day of the trial at the end of October, she had retracted her testimony and stated that she had neither known nor met Leyla Güven. She also did not know whether Güven had any connection to the PKK. She had only claimed this beforehand because she had been told during a police interrogation that the prosecutor could help her in her trial if she incriminated the now convicted politician.

This is not the first time Güven has been arrested. In 2009, she was jailed as part of the internationally criticized “KCK operations” and was released only after five years. At the time of her arrest, Güven was mayor of the Viranşehir district of Urfa.

In January 2018, she was again remanded in custody, this time for her criticism of the war of aggression against Afrin. At the time, she initiated a 200-day hunger strike action in November of the same year for the lifting of solitary confinement conditions for PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan, who has been imprisoned on the prison island of Imrali since 1999, with over 7,000 people participating at last count. Last June, Güven was arrested again, only a few hours after the parliament in Ankara had revoked her mandate and thus also her immunity. The reason given was the now legally binding verdict in the KCK trial. (ANF)

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The HDP said it would appeal against the sentence. It described it as “a hostile act against all Kurds and the entire opposition”.

Güven, 56, was an MP for the HDP and the co-leader of the Democratic Society Congress – an assembly of representatives from civil society organisations, political parties, lawyers and human rights defenders.

The Turkish government accuses the congress of being linked to the militant Kurdish PKK group, which has waged a bloody insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades.

Güven was detained in 2018 following critical remarks about Turkey’s military operation in the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria. She had labelled the military operation against a Syrian Kurdish armed group as “an invasion”.

While in detention she went on hunger strike over the prison conditions of the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been in a high-security jail in Turkey since 1999.
Güven’s whereabouts after Monday’s sentencing were not clear. However, police sources quoted by AFP news agency said she had been held during a search of a HDP lawmaker’s home in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir and was being taken to prison.

In its statement, the HDP described Güven as “a person of struggle who dedicated her life to peace. She is a monument of honour”.(BBC)