Turkey continues crackdown on HDP opposition party, arrests 35 suspects

Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) co-chairs in Kagithane district and a co-chair of the Besiktas district were arrested during the operation in 3 cities.
Turkish security forces during a raid on pro-Kurdish HDP members and activists in Istanbul on March 19, 2021. (Photo: Anadolu Agency)
Turkish security forces during a raid on pro-Kurdish HDP members and activists in Istanbul on March 19, 2021. (Photo: Anadolu Agency)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish security forces arrested 35 suspects, including members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Turkish state media reports. The arrest wave comes just days after Ankara moved to close down the party. 

HDP co-chairs in Kagithane district and one of the co-chairs from Besiktas district in Istanbul were arrested during the operation, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported on Friday.

“Ten of the suspects were arrested, while the hunt for the remaining five suspects continues,” Anadolu reported.

Also arrested was Ozturk Turkdogan, chair of Turkey's Human Rights Association (IHD). “Police detained 10 HDP officials this morning in Istanbul and Ankara. This must stop,” Amnesty International's Regional Director for Europe Nils Muiznieks tweeted.

Anadolu said that 12 people were arrested in the capital Ankara, including former HDP district heads thought to be preparing a demonstration in the city.

Turkey's top prosecutor filed an indictment against the HDP on Wednesday, seeking the closure of the party and a political ban for 687 HDP officials, including its current co-chairs, Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar, and the imprisoned former co-chairs, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.

“The court case to close our Party is a severe blow to our country’s democracy and law. This government has inscribed its name in history as a coupist government,” Buldan and Sancar said on Thursday.

Read More: HDP co-chairs say closure of party a ‘blow to democracy’ in Turkey

Turkey’s Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun has attempted to justify the case against the HDP, anticipating a negative response from Europe and the US, and recently tweeted that “it is an indisputable fact that HDP has organic ties to PKK,” the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey, the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist organization.

The United States and Europe have criticized the case. On Thursday, German Foreign Ministry expressed its concerns over the court case.

Germany, a close trade partner of Turkey, in the past has opposed plans to sanction Turkey over its moves in the eastern Mediterranean.

According to Gonul Tol, director of the Turkey program at the Washington, DC-based Middle East Institute, Germany leads the “let’s engage Turkey camp” within Europe.

“Banning a political party can only be the very last resort in a democracy. The case of the HDP raises considerable doubts as regards proportionality,” the German Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

However, Germany has also taken a critical position towards the HDP and called on the party “to clearly distance itself from the PKK.”

Kerem Schamberger, a research associate at the Institute for Communication Science and Media Research at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, told Kurdistan 24 that the statement plays into Turkey’s hands.

“The last sentence of the statement (on HDP-PKK links) is especially ridiculous. This only feeds the Turkish-state narrative that led to this situation of the threatened party ban in the first place.”

Turkey has a long history of banning political parties, including pro-Kurdish ones.

President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) itself survived a closure case in 2008. And the president, while mayor of Istanbul, was jailed for four months in 1999 for reading a nationalist poem.

Since the collapse of the peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK in 2015, some 16,300 HDP members have been detained, with 3,500 of them receiving prison sentences, party officials told Mezopotamya news agency in November 2019. Another 700 people were detained last month, including HDP members.

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly