ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Turkish judicial authorities are investigating 30 Kurdish politicians because of their support for the Kurdistan Region's referendum on independence from Iraq held last year and also their criticism of Turkey's recent invasion of Afrin, sources said on Friday.
They were facing accusations from a public prosecutor in the city of Diyarbakir for "participation in activities of a terrorist organization," a charge referring to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Ankara has ruled the country under the expanded powers of a "state of emergency" since mid-2016 following a failed coup. The measure has led to the arrest of hundreds of Kurdish politicians, including presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas, seven lawmakers, and some 80 mayors.
Among those now under investigation are Kurdistan Democratic Party-Turkey (KDP-T) leader Serefhan Ciziri, deputy heads of Kurdistan Socialist Party (PSK) Bayram Bozyel and Hasan Dagtekin, Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) chair Mustafa Ozcelik, and Freedom and Socialism Party's (OSP) Sinan Ciftyurek.
PAK's Mustafa Ozcelik told Kurdistan 24 in a phone interview that a workshop the party held last year in Diyarbakir about the Kurdistan Region's September 2017 independence referendum constituted the basis for Turkish authorities' action against them.
"All those who organized and spoke at the event are now being called to the anti-terror department of the Turkish police in Diyarbakir," he said.
Platform for Kurdish Democrat's Sertac Bucak, Freedom Movement (Azadi) spokesperson Ayetullah Asiti and the civic group's lawyer Sidki Zilan, several other members, and intellectuals Fuat Onen, Yaşar Abdulselamoglu, Celal Baykara, Esref Cakan, and Ali Kizilay were other targets of the probe.
Various statements regarding Turkey's assault on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in Syria and their social media posts about both that and other Kurdish-related issues were also part of the investigation.
Turkey launched the two-month attack on Afrin in late January and later declared victory over Kurdish forces that have been critical allies of the US-led Coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
The campaign saw the killing of hundreds of civilians and displacement of over 160 thousand people whom, Kurdish officials, the US, and international watchdogs say are still denied the right to return by Turkey.
Ozcelik said that the probe against them would "most probably" turn into prosecution, which could mean years in prison for what authorities deem as "terrorist activities."
"It is interesting that is they accuse us of PKK activities for showing support for the Kurdistan referendum, for promoting Kurdish people's legitimate rights," Ozcelik said.
"We had protested the takeover of Kirkuk by the Iranian-backed Iraqi forces too. We prayed for the martyred Peshmerga, and now they say that was also terrorist propaganda," he added, speaking of Kurdish forces' October 2017 loss of the multi-ethnic city.
Another event authorities asked about was a celebration of Kurdistan Flag Day the city of Van in December 2016.
"We are different parties that have nothing to do with the PKK, but it is clear the Turkish state is opposed to everything to do with Kurds. They do not want any peaceful struggle to take place in Northern Kurdistan," he said when asked for a comment.
"We continue to defend our views. These are, on their part, mere threats to scare us, but Kurdish people's struggle cannot be extinguished," Ozcelik continued.
Lawyer Zilan condemned what he called an attack on their right to expression and called Turkey's government "a fascist regime intent on assimilating and defeating the Kurds."
"A referendum is a legitimate right. We clearly defend this. We said the Kurdistan [Region] has commercial and diplomatic ties to turkey and it cannot be criminalized," he said.
"However, under the pretext of fighting the PKK, state authorities are criminalizing anything to do with Kurds and Kurdistan. Some officials harbor strong hostilities," Zilan said.
"We only peacefully demand our rights in accordance with international laws."
Editing by John J. Catherine