Leyla Güven, a former member of Turkey’s parliament who was sentenced to prison for 22 years in 2018 for criticising the Turkish army’s invasion of the Kurdish city of Afrin, has been sentenced to an additional 11 years and 7 months in prison for speeches she made between 2015 and 2019.
The court’s verdict said Güven, a member of Turkey’s Kurdish ethnic minority and former deputy for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was guilty of “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation” in her speeches.
But HDP officials and critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan say the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is using its power over the judiciary to punish opposition figures such as Güven.
The former HDP deputy, who is known as a symbol of Kurdish women’s resistance to the Turkish state’s repressive policies, came to international prominence in 2018, when she participated in a hunger strike in prison to help break the isolation conditions of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Güven spent 200 days on hunger strike, and the efforts of her and the other strikers are credited for the Turkish authorities’ easing of Öcalan’s isolation.
Before being taken to hospital for treatment after her 200-day long hunger strike, she made a statement from a wheelchair, saying “the result of this resistance is a victory for the peoples of Turkey”.
Güven’s allies from the HDP say this week’s sentence is an attempt by the Turkish state to take revenge for this victory.
“The sentence of 11 years and 7 months given to our deputy Leyla Güven is a revenge operation,” the HDP Women’s Council said in a tweet. “You will not be able to prevent women from doing politics with policies of oppression and intimidation. Wherever we are, we will continue to speak our word and will not obey. Leyla’s struggle is our struggle.”
Milletvekilimiz Leyla Güven’e verilen 11 yıl 7 aylık ceza intikam operasyonudur. Kadınları baskı ve sindirme politikalarıyla siyaset yapmaktan alıkoyamayacaksınız. Bulunduğumuz her yerde sözümüzü söylemeyi sürdürecek, itaat etmeyeceğiz.
Leyla’nın mücadelesi mücadelemizdir. pic.twitter.com/GWXwHEd18L
— HDP Kadın (@HDPkadin) October 17, 2022
HDP Group Deputy Chairman Meral Danış Beştaş also responded to the sentence, calling it a testament to the AKP government’s fear of free expression.
“The sentence bears absolutely no relation to the law … and it can’t. There was no crime,” Beştaş said.
“Leyla Güven has been handed an 11-year-and-7-month prison sentence for speaking, moreover for a speech she made while serving as a member of parliament,” she said. “This shows just how great an effect speech has on this government, and on the other hand it is a declaration by the government of how fearful they are of speech.”
“They are trying to take revenge on her in their own way in the face of her resistance, her struggle, and her resolve on this issue Those in charge of the state are not supposed to take revenge, but to take necessary measures according to law. So, this too amounts to an admission that theirs is not a state of law. Leyla Guven is being punished not for ‘making terrorist propaganda’, but for being an HDP deputy, for being the co-chair of the DTK and for participating in the hunger strike [against the imposed isolation of Öcalan].”
In an interview with the British left-wing newspaper Morning Star in 2019, Güven said:
“Even if we are arrested, tortured, we will stand upright. Musa Anter said, struggle is a Kurd’s reality, meaning we experience so much persecution, we may not have the power to stop this, but we will fight back and they will not have the power to stop our fight.”