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THOUSANDS of protesters “united against fascism” gathered outside an Istanbul courtroom yesterday as opposition leader Selahattin Demirtas made his first appearance before a judge in more than 434 days.
He was present at a court hearing for the first time since his arrest on trumped-up charges of terrorism in November 2016.
Mr Demirtas faced charges of “insulting the president,” which carries a maximum four-year jail term, over comments he made on December 24 2015.
The charge is just one of 20 against Mr Demirtas and more than 90 court hearings have been held in his absence.
Last month, he refused to appear via video link at a hearing in Ankara, insisting on his right to be tried in person.
An international delegation, including British and Irish politicians, was refused entry to the court on the grounds that it posed “a security threat.”
Those gathered outside in support of Mr Demirtas chanted: “By resisting, we will win,” and one woman vowed that the protesters would stand with him “until death.”
From inside the courtroom, Dogus Mertcan Ozcan said: “Demirtas just arrived with big love. Everybody standing up applauding and sending him kisses and salutes.”
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-leader struck a defiant tone at the hearing, insisting that he still enjoyed judicial immunity as a member of the Grand National Assembly, Turkey’s parliament.
“In order for a lawmaker to be tried, his or her parliamentary immunity must be lifted at the same time. If our immunity is lifted without a parliamentary decision, then it is not legitimate,” he said.
The HDP is the third-largest party in parliament, having won seats in the July and November 2015 elections by breaking through the country’s arbitrary 10 per cent threshold.
However, the removal of MPs’ immunity from prosecution in May 2016 paved the way for a series of arrests of HDP politicians following raids the same November.
Mr Demirtas faces 142 years in prison, while Figen Yuksekdag, the party’s other co-leader, could spend the rest of her life in solitary confinement if convicted.
HDP co-chair Serpil Kemalbay warned in a speech outside the courtroom that the verdict on Mr Demirtas had already been dictated by the government in Ankara.
The case was adjourned until May 17.
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