HRW says Turkey should reinstate removed Kurdish mayors

"Smearing the mayors by alleging vague links with terrorism to deprive the Kurdish population of their chosen representatives endangers everyone in Turkey."

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Turkish government’s removal of three democratically elected Kurdish mayors violates the rights of voters and suspends local democracy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.

“The three mayors should be allowed to resume their posts immediately,” HRW said in a statement on its website.

On Monday, Turkey’s Interior Ministry dismissed the mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin, and Van: Adnan Selcuk Mizrakli, Ahmet Turk, and Bedia Ozgokce Ertan, respectively. They were accused of supporting terrorism. All three mayors are from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The highly-centralized Ankara government moved to appoint the unelected governors of the three cities instead of the mayors.

The incident comes only months after nationwide local elections in March.

“President Erdogan’s government has effectively canceled the results of the March local elections in the three main cities of the Kurdish southeast by removing voters’ chosen mayors, all valid candidates, and taking over these municipalities,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said.

“Smearing the mayors by alleging vague links with terrorism to deprive the Kurdish population of their chosen representatives endangers everyone in Turkey who is committed to democratic elections, human rights, and the rule of law.”

According to HRW, the European Court of Human Rights has “harshly criticized Turkey for its actions in pursuing baseless terrorism charges against elected members of parliament.”

A significant example is the unlawful detention of Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-chair of the HDP, and a member of parliament. In 2018, the European court found that his arrest stifled pluralism and limited freedom of political debate in Turkey.

In September 2016, the Law on Municipalities was changed in Turkey under a state of emergency decree to facilitate the removal of mayors accused of terrorism links and their substitution with provincial governors.

Ninety-four mayors from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) were subsequently removed, and many were held in prolonged pretrial detention.

Turk, a veteran Kurdish politician, was previously stripped of office as elected mayor of the Mardin greater municipality under that decree and arrested in November 2016.

In February, Erdogan delivered a speech ahead of the March elections, in which he stated that mayors linked with terrorism could be removed once again.

“These moves by Erdogan’s government against democratically elected officials violate Turkey’s obligations under international and regional human rights law,” HRW said.

“The moves violate the right to political participation, the right to free elections, and the right to freedom of expression under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Anders Knape, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, expressed his “grave concern” about the recent developments in Turkey.

“These mayors were elected as a result of the free and fair expression of the will of the Turkish people during the local elections [in March], which were observed by the Congress,” Knape said in a statement on Tuesday.

“I call on the Turkish authorities to address this issue without delay and, in particular, to restore the capacity of municipal councils to choose a replacement mayor.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany