DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish judicial authorities charged opposition lawmaker Ayhan Bilgen with receiving orders from leaders of the banned guerrilla group Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as the first trial against him began on Tuesday after half a year of detention.
An indictment prepared by the public prosecutor's office in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir alleged that the top PKK commander Murat Karayilan who is leading a decades-long armed campaign against Turkish troops sent instructions via a tweet to the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) MP Bilgen during the deadly November 2014 Kurdish riots.
Kurdistan 24's Diyarbakir Bureau reported that in his defense Bilgen, whom the Turkish police arrested in late January, rejected the charge, saying the claim against him was a "setup" and a single tweet to him from an account whose user's identity could not be definitively determined was not evidence of a crime.
The 2014 riots that killed 47 civilians and police officers broke out in over a dozen cities after a decision by the HDP to protest Ankara government's inaction against and perceived support for the Islamic State (IS) group which was laying a months-long siege on the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria.
"You are holding a political party's lawmaker for six months and justifying it through a Twitter account which has no followers," Bilgen told the court where he was not present but attended the trial via teleconference.
Bilgen refused to be handcuffed earlier that day in prison, thus the trial went on without his appearance before the Diyarbakir courthouse where several other HDP lawmakers, as well as the party's co-leader Serpil Kemalbay, were present to support him.
A Kurdistan 24 correspondent following the trial could not learn which Twitter handle the judicial authorities were using as evidence against Bilgen for whom they demanded a prison sentence of up to 25 years over "membership in a terror group."
A quick search on Twitter showed about two dozen accounts with the name "Murat Karayilan" but not in one of them a tweet mentioning Bilgen was available.
No PKK leader is known to be openly using social media outlets, and it was not clear if the Twitter handle that allegedly mentioned Bilgen was now active or defunct.
Bilgen represents his northeastern home province of Kars and is a member of the human rights commission at the Turkish Parliament.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a massive crackdown on the HDP and its affiliates last year on the grounds that it is a political front for the PKK with which a two-year-held peace talks and ceasefire collapsed in 2015.
HDP's imprisoned charismatic co-leader Selahattin Demirtas and ten other lawmakers in continued detention have rejected the allegation that has led to their arrest and that of thousands of other party members including 80 elected mayors.
Editing by Ava Homa
(Kurdistan 24's Diyarbakir Bureau contributed to this report.)