Turkey slammed as jailed Kurdish leader's wife issued prison term over doctor's note error

Accusations of 'guilt by association' after sentence against Basak Demirtas, wife of former HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas

A supporter of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) holds pictures of their jailed former leader and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas during a campaign event in Istanbul, Turkey May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir       NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
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The wife of a leading Kurdish politician serving a five-year prison term for terrorism offences has herself been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail over a misdated doctor’s note.

Basak Demirtas, wife of Selahattin Demirtas, was convicted for receiving a medical report “contrary to facts”, relating to medical attention she received in 2015 following a miscarriage.

The report to absent her from her job as a teacher was misdated by three days.

Ms Demirtas’s husband is the former co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). He led the party to a landmark election victory in 2015, when it entered Parliament for the first time.

In 2018 presidential elections, he stood against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from prison, with the help of his wife.

The case against Ms Demirtas was launched in March 2018.

Her lawyers said she visited hospital nine times in November and December 2015 for “serious health problems”, undergoing surgery on two occasions.

On December 11, she went to a family health centre in Diyarbakir, south-east Turkey, and was given a medical report covering five days’ leave.

Ms Demirtas’s lawyers said an incorrect date of December 14 was written on the note that she submitted to her school's administration.

Diyarbakir 6th High Criminal Court – which also sentenced the doctor involved to two-and-a-half years in prison – had ordered the clinic’s records to be submitted to confirm the correct date of her visit. However, the documents were never produced.

“While the truth is apparent, sentencing Basak Demirtas as a result of such a trial is openly unlawful and grossly unfair,” her lawyers said.

Ali Yildiz, a Brussels-based human rights lawyer, said the sentence came as no surprise after Ms Demirtas was singled out in comments by Mr Erdogan.

“Detaining family members of dissidents or guilt by association is the manual of all autocratic regimes,” he said.

“On a legal angle, from her lawyer’s statement, we understood that the conviction was given upon inadequate investigation."

The medical centre records that would prove her innocence have not been examined and that is normally a strong reason for reversing or quashing the conviction.”

Nacho Sanchez Amor, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, tweeted that a prison sentence for “a mere clerical error concerning a medical record is appalling and seems beyond common sense”.

“It just looks so political. It gives the measure of the worrying state of Turkish judiciary,” he said,

Ms Demirtas is free pending an appeal but her legal team said the timing of Wednesday’s sentencing was “not a coincidence” and was “the product of a mentality of collective punishment”.

Last week she posted a video on social media to mark the fifth anniversary of her husband’s imprisonment in which she criticised the “trampling of the law” and rising polarisation in Turkey.

“Yes, they might have succeeded in keeping Selahattin and his friends in their prison cells but they couldn’t suppress their voices or their strength,” she said.

A supporter of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) holds a portrait of their jailed former leader and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas during a campaign event in Istanbul, Turkey, June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Ms Demirtas has also spoken of the difficulty of visiting her husband in Edirne high-security prison, more than 1,600 kilometres from their home in Diyarbakir.

She gave up her job last year, saying being the target of pro-government media had made teaching untenable.

Her husband has been held on a series of terrorism offences, mostly related to speeches dating back as far as 2014. He has been convicted on some charges, including disseminating terrorist propaganda and insulting Mr Erdogan.

Critics say his imprisonment is part of a wider campaign against the HDP, which has seen thousands of its members arrested and dozens of elected officials removed from their posts since 2015.

In the Kurdish-majority south-east, the party is the main challenger to Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party.

The government accuses the party of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged an insurgency since 1984. The group is deemed a terrorist organisation by Turkey and most western countries. The HDP denies any connection to terrorism.

In December last year, the European Court of Human Rights called for Mr Demirtas’s immediate release, noting that his pre-trial detention had “merely been cover for an ulterior political purpose, which was a matter of indisputable gravity for democracy”.

Ankara has rejected the court’s decision.

Updated: November 13, 2021, 11:43 AM