An Ankara court on Friday sentenced Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) former deputy co-chair Aysel Tuğluk to 10 years in prison in a case in which she was tried for allegedly “being the leader of a terror organization.”

According to a report by the Hürriyet Daily News, Tuğluk said in her defense before the court that the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) was not an extension of a terrorist organization. “The DTK never called for violence. It serves as a legal platform that seeks a democratic solution to the Kurdish question,” Tuğluk added.

“I am neither a member of an organization nor the leader of an organization. All the work I have ever done is legal and legitimate according to our constitution and laws. I am only a member of the HDP and the DTK, nothing else,” she said.

Tuğluk denied the accusations and demanded that she be acquitted of the charges. However, the 17th High Criminal Court first sentenced her to eight years in prison for membership in a terrorist organization but then increased her sentence to 12 years. The court eventually reduced Tuğluk’s sentence to 10 years.

In her trial in October 2017, the prosecutor had demanded up to twenty-two-and-a-half years in prison for Tuğluk. The indictment prepared by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office had alleged that Tuğluk took directives from Abdullah Öcalan, jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK), and made statements to media outlets close to the PKK. The indictment also noted that Tuğluk attended the funerals of “terrorists.”

In January a court in the western province of Kocaeli had also sentenced Tuğluk to one-and-a-half years in jail for “organizing and managing” illegally held protests in front of Kocaeli Prison.

The Turkish government’s crackdown on the Kurdish political movement began in late 2016 with the arrest of high profile politicians, including the party’s then co-chairs, Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, which led to the detention of at least 5,000 members of the HDP, including 80 mayors. Trustees have been appointed to dozens of municipalities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast. There are currently 10 HDP deputies behind bars. The developments have attracted widespread criticism from the region and Western countries.

Turkish authorities had conducted direct talks with jailed PKK chieftain Öcalan for several years until a truce in effect collapsed in the summer of 2015. Since then, there have been heavy clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces.

More than 40,000 people, including 5,500 security force members, have been killed in four decades of fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Over 1,200 Turkish security personnel and civilians, including a number of women and children, have been killed since July 2015 alone, when the Turkish government and the PKK resumed the armed struggle again.

This article originally appeared in Turkish Minute on Mar 17.

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