A group of intellectuals, politicians and trade unionists, including writer Noam Chomsky and former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, wrote a letter to the United Kingdom (UK) Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Dominic Raab regarding the imprisonment of the Co-Chair of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), Leyla Güven, in Turkey. They urged him use his “influence with Turkey, a NATO ally and member of the Council of Europe, to secure the immediate release of Ms. Güven” and to raise his “deep concerns over the ongoing clampdown on democracy”.
Leyla Güven was sentenced to 22 years and three months in prison on Monday 21 December for her statements against the attacks on Afrin and for her activities as part of the DTK. She was sent to Elazığ (Xerpet) prison on 23 December. The letter urges Dominic Raab to demand that Turkey releases Leyla Güven. The letter, in full, states:
Dear Foreign Secretary,
We are writing to you to express our grave concern over the jailing of former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP Leyla Güven who was sentenced to 22 years and three months in prison by a Turkish court on Monday 21 December.
She was charged with a number of offences including the management of a terrorist organisation relating to her role as the Co-Chair of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) – a coalition of Kurdish organisations supporting autonomy and Kurdish rights.
The DTK is not a terrorist organisation. The Turkish government at one stage agreed, inviting the organisation to take part in talks aimed at developing a new and updated constitution for the country.
In a separate hearing on Tuesday 22 December, the European Court of Human Rights stated that the DTK was a legal organisation and ruled that participating in activities organised by the DTK cannot be considered as evidence of membership of a terrorist organisation, calling for Ms. Güven to be released immediately.
It is not the first time the Kurdish politician has been targeted by the Turkish state. Ms. Güven was stripped of her parliamentary status in June and briefly jailed before a successful campaign for her release. In 2018, she was jailed after a speech opposing Turkey’s invasion of Afrin, in northern Syria. Ms. Güven was subsequently elected as the MP for Hakkari from her prison cell.
The decision to jail her for more than 22 years is effectively a life sentence. If the decision is allowed to stand, Ms. Güven, who has dedicated her life to the cause of freedom, peace, and justice, will spend longer in prison than rapists, murderers, or Islamist terrorists.
There is no longer an independent judiciary in Turkey. Following a controversial constitutional referendum in 2017, all appointments are now made by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The country’s courtrooms are accused of carrying out political decisions based on Mr. Erdoğan’s demands.
The HDP, Turkey’s fourth-largest political party, has come under intense pressure since it was founded. More than 16,000 HDP members and supporters have been arrested since 2015. Of those, 6,000 have been jailed, including 200 elected officials and seven parliamentarians.
More than 50 democratically elected HDP mayors have been removed since last year’s local elections and replaced with government-appointed trustees. In recent months, hundreds of HDP members and representatives have been detained in police operations.
This is the biggest attack on a legal political party since the end of the second world war and has been described by the HDP as a political genocide. We urge you to use your influence with Turkey, a NATO ally and member of the Council of Europe, to secure the immediate release of Ms. Güven and to raise your deep concerns over the ongoing clampdown on democracy.
Turkey must be reminded of its obligations to abide by international law and the decisions of institutions including the European Court of Human Rights. Britain must ensure that basic and fundamental rights are upheld by Turkey and consider what course of action to take if it fails to do so.
We look forward to your swift response to this urgent matter and to securing the immediate release of Ms. Güven.
The signatories are:
John Austin, Baroness Blower of Starch Green, former GS NUT, Prof Bill Bowring, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Professor Mary Davis, Lord Dholakia, Simon Dubbins (UNITE International Director), Jill Evans (former MEP), Desmond Fernandes, Lindsey German (Convenor STWC), Melanie Gingell, Christopher Gingell, Professor Michael Gunter (Secretary-General, EU-Turkey Civic Commission), Rahila Gupta (journalist), Nick Hildyard (policy advisor), Dafydd Iwan (former President, Plaid Cymru), James Kelman, Bruce Kent, Jean Lambert (former MEP), Dr Les Levidow (Open University), Elfyn Llwyd, John McDonnell MP, Aonghas MacNeacail (Scottish Gaelic poet), Mike Mansfield QC, David Morgan (journalist), Doug Nicholls (General Secretary, GFTU), Dr. Jessica Ayesha Northey, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Kate Osamor MP, Margaret Owen OBE, Ali Gul Ozbek (former Councillor and Mayor of Haringey), Gareth Peirce, Dr Felix Padel, Maxine Peake (actor), Dr Thomas Phillips (Liverpool John Moores University), Trevor Rayne (writer), Joe Ryan, Tony Simpson (Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation), Stephen Smellie (PIK Trade Union Liaison Officer), Jonathan Steele (journalist), Steve Sweeney (journalist), Gianni Tognoni (General Secretary, Permanent People’s Tribunal), Dr Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Dr Federico Venturini (Associate Researcher, University of Udine, Italy); Dr Tom Wakeford, Dr Derek Wall, Julie Ward (former MEP), Kariane Westrheim (Chair, EU-Turkey Civic Commission) and Hywel Williams MP.