ISTANBUL - One hundred and eight prominent members of Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP went on trial in the capital, Ankara, Monday in connection with violent nationwide protests in 2014 that left 37 people dead.
The protests were against the government's failure to militarily intervene as the Islamic State was poised to overrun the predominantly Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, on Turkey's border.
Speaking outside the courthouse Monday, HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar said the trial is politically motivated.
"The party official called this a case of revenge which he said is the product of the defeats that the HDP has made the government suffer," Sancar said.
Ankara accuses the YPG Syrian Kurdish fighters defending Kobane of being terrorists no different from Islamic State militants.
The government is vigorously defending the prosecution, claiming the defendants have to be held to account for the deaths in the 2014 unrest.
But Emma Sinclair Webb of the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the case is part of an alarming trend.
This is an entirely political trial as so many trials in Turkey are these days. This is part of a contentious effort to deplete the HDP to criminalize it," Sinclair Webb said. "Basically evidence is based on political speeches and there is just no compelling credible evidence to pursue this case."
The defendants face life sentences on charges of murder, insurrection and inciting terrorism. Among those on trial is the HDP’s two former leaders, who are already in jail.
The ruling AK Party accuses the HDP of being linked to the Kurdish rebel group the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish state, a charge the party denies. Columnist Sezin Oney of the Duvar news portal said the future of the party is now in doubt.
"Probably the beginning of the end of the HDP, AK party officials have on various instances have mentioned their intention is to wipe out the HDP for good so it can’t make a comeback," Oney said.
Dozens of elected HDP mayors are already in jail, and advocates fear that prosecutors could be preparing what is designed to be a fatal blow to Turkey's second-largest opposition party.