Turkey cannot make a terrorist out of Kurdish mayor Selçuk Mızraklı

On Monday, we were at court again. This time, it was the final hearing to announce the court’s verdict for Selçuk Mızraklı, Kurdish former mayor for Turkey’s southeastern province of Diyarbakır . Previously, Mızraklı had refused to attend the hearings if audio-visual surveillance systems would be recording the proceedings. This was again the case at this hearing as well. Mızraklı’s attorneys spoke for him.

The indictment used Mızraklı’s participation in the Democratic Society Congress (DTK ), a platform of Kurdish associations and movements, to bring charges against him of membership and activity in a terrorist organisation. Consequently, his lawyer Cihan Aydın began his defence with examples of work he had done in the DTK. We saw from these examples that many of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s parliamentarians, ministers, and presidential advisors participated in DTK activities.

For example, we heard that participants of a 2014 workshop included high-profile AKP politicians including a former deputy prime minister, the interior minister, and minister of agriculture and forestry. We heard that on January 12, 2012, Cemil Çiçek—who was Speaker of Parliament at the time—signed off on an invitation to the DTK to participate in shaping a new constitution. There are many more examples like this. But while these people are not being taken to court, Selçuk Mızraklı is standing trial for membership in a terrorist organisation due to his participation in these projects.

Another aspect of the case brought against him is its being based on a secret witness, though there is little secrecy left at this point, because by now everyone knows her name. I would like to echo the language of the state here: it is an “alleged” health worker. This health worker mysteriously lived in the mountains among the Kurdish resistance for years, fought in the trenches at Nusaybin in southern Turkey, was captured, put on trial for life imprisonment, and was all of a sudden released from prison.

The other people being prosecuted in the Nusaybin case received life sentences. After a certain point it became clear why this woman was suddenly released from prison: apparently she made a blanket accusation against 180 Kurdish politicians, activists, lawyers…she testified that all of them were members of a terrorist organisation. And this is the secret witness who testified that Mızraklı provided medical treatment to terrorists.

Another part of the prosecution’s case is that Mızraklı helped finance terrorism through the Ivy Association, which is a non-profit committed to fighting poverty. Again, there are many AKP members among the founders of the Ivy Association. It was established through a collaborative effort with participation from every faction in order to find solutions to poverty in Diyarbakır. For years, the AKP used Ivy as an example in anti-poverty campaigns, and different governments used it as a model. After years of close supervision, the organisation was shut down in the crackdown that followed the 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and is now being accused of financing terrorism. How is Ivy funding terrorism? By providing food assistance every month to the most impoverished 4,500 families in Diyarbakır?

These baseless accusations resulted in Mızraklı being sentenced to nine years and four months in prison. As one of Mızraklı’s lawyers, Emin Aktar, said, this decision is in fact a message to Kurdish society. It is a message that Kurdish people cannot elect their own mayors. Aktar’s defence drew attention to another important point. He noted that even the secret witness that testified against Mızraklı refers to him with the honorific of “hoca,” used for teachers, clergy, or respected elders. Aktar explains that even the accuser sees Mızraklı more as a doctor and a teacher than a politician.

At the end of the defence, lawyer Muhsin Bal invited the court to support the law and the truth: “Courts must operate on the basis of law, justice, and truth. The judicial history of this country is full of cautionary tales in which the truth was concealed and covered up. Life has shown how grave the price is for the judiciary to conceal and cover up the truth. One cannot deny the truth; it will eventually surface and demand answers.”

This week, in the courtroom, the truth was once again warped. Our brother Selçuk, Diyarbakır’s Selçuk Hoca: I wonder if this man, whom anyone who was ill could reach in one phone call, knows what the people of Diyarbakır are feeling today. We are sorry Selçuk, we are so sorry. Whatever they do, they cannot make a “terrorist” out of you. Today and tomorrow, you are our brother, the Selçuk Hoca of Diyarbakır! You have a special place in our hearts.

As we left the courtroom, the lawyers wanted to give a statement to the press. Hundreds of police encircled and prevented them from making a statement. They are that afraid of the truth.

I return home. The media is reporting on another instance of warped truth. They say that Osman Kavala, a prominent businessman and philanthropist who was held in custody despite being acquitted of charges, and in spite of calls from the European Court of Human Rights for his immediate release, has been arrested once again for charges of participating in 2016’s failed coup attempt My heart sinks.

I want to breathe a heavy sigh. Oh brother Selçuk, oh Osman, and all other jailed Kurdish politicians and Turkey’s prominent rights activists…everyone. With you all detained there, and us out here, living in this country has just become too much.