Year on since Turkey crackdown on pro-Kurdish HDP

The step President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government took to sideline the second largest opposition bloc led to an international outcry.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) - In the early hours of November 4, 2016, armed Turkish police units simultaneously raided homes of Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers and arrested 12 MPs including the party's co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.

Thus began an ongoing government clampdown on the autonomy-seeking Kurdish political movement, a move unprecedented in recent decades of the modern republic of Turkey, a strictly centralized state founded on ethno-nationalist ideals of one language, one flag, and one homeland.

The step Ankara took to sideline the second largest opposition bloc led to an international outcry.

"[It] may go beyond what is permissible," the UN human rights office said, while the European Parliament President Martin Schulz stated the actions "call into question the basis for the sustainable relationship between the EU and Turkey."

EU's top diplomat Federica Mogherini said she was "extremely worried" by the arrests.

The United States expressed "deep concern" over the Turkish government's detentions of opposition members.

Kurdistan Region's parties condemned the arrests, while President Masoud Barzani whose extended tenure recently ended urged Turkey to free HDP politicians.

Fearing police violence, few people in the major Kurdish city of Diyarbakir and elsewhere took to the streets to protest.

The government blocked social media platforms during the day as the Turkish Lira saw a decline against the US dollar and Euro.

It did not stop with what Demirtas had predicted only a week before the beginning of his pre-detention in a supermax prison in the northwestern Edirne Province, initially in solitary confinement for over a month.

The detention of HDP leadership was followed by weekly roundups of hundreds of party officials, members, mayors, and affiliates, numbering at over seven thousand so far.

During the same period, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government sped up its removal of elected mayors, 80 of them imprisoned so far, replacing them with bureaucrats dubbed as trustees to run municipal affairs of over 100 Kurdish towns and cities.

Among the detainees were the Co-mayors of Diyarbakir Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli, both members of HDP's sister party Democratic Regions Party (DBP). The former faces 230 years of imprisonment.

Turkish police officers detain the Co-leader HDP's sister party Democratic Regions Party (DBP) Sebahat Tuncel during a demonstration outside Diyarbakir's courthouse, November 4, 2016. (Photo: AFP)
Turkish police officers detain the Co-leader HDP's sister party Democratic Regions Party (DBP) Sebahat Tuncel during a demonstration outside Diyarbakir's courthouse, November 4, 2016. (Photo: AFP)

DBP Co-leaders Sebahat Tuncel and Kamuran Yuksek too were days later detained. Both remain in prison.

According to figures HDP lawmaker Filiz Keresticioglu provided on Thursday during a protest in front of the Constitutional Court, in total 27 pro-Kurdish lawmakers faced arrest 67 times during the past year.

HDP has 59 seats in the Parliament.

Authorities held 309 trials for MPs jailed, including Demirtas and the party's former Co-leader Yuksekdag.

Across the country, prosecutors have sent over 510 judicial investigations to the Parliament against almost all HDP MPs.

Charges against HDP lawmakers range from insulting President Erdogan, belittling the Turkish state, cursing police officers to membership in the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and collaboration with it.

Evidence brought against them were usually speeches they made or protests they staged during campaign rallies in 2015 and earlier elections.

Erdogan has publicly called Demirtas "a terrorist."

Demirtas's success of garnering the support of 13 percent of voters in June 2015 parliamentary elections cost the President's Justice and Development Party (AKP) a mandate to form a single-party government for the first time since its coming to power in 2003.

The charismatic Kurdish leader described his continued detention as "being a hostage" to Erdogan's plan of "forging a one-man rule" in the country.

Prosecutors have asked up to 142 years for Demirtas, and already sentenced him and several other lawmakers to decades of imprisonment for the charges mentioned.

A law drafted by the AKP and supported by its far-right ally Nationalist Movement Party as well as the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in May 2016 preluded the concerted state decimation of Turkey's most successful pro-Kurdish party.

The law lifted the immunity from prosecution of MPs, a move disproportionately targeting the HDP, after Erdogan vowed punishment for who he said were a front for the PKK.

Since then, the Parliament has ousted five HDP lawmakers, including Yuksekdag, Nursel Aydogan, Besime Konca, Tugba Hezer, and Faysal Sariyildiz, the latter two in European self-exile, bringing down the number of HDP seats from a total of 59 to 54.

The party had won 80 seats in June 2015 elections but could not hold on to its victory when AKP failed in forming a coalition with any of the opposition parties and opted for snap elections in following November shortly after two years-held peace talks with PKK dramatically collapsed.

The European Court of Human Rights has demanded from Ankara an explanation for the continued detention of HDP MPs, extending a previous deadline to next Friday.

Kurdish leader Demirtas seen with his wife Basak Demirtas during one of the latter's visit to a prison where Turkish authorities keep the HDP Co-chair in the Edirne Province. The note on the picture says September 6, 2017. (Photo: HDP)
Kurdish leader Demirtas seen with his wife Basak Demirtas during one of the latter's visit to a prison where Turkish authorities keep the HDP Co-chair in the Edirne Province. The note on the picture says September 6, 2017. (Photo: HDP)

Meanwhile, the detained politicians continue to receive more jail time, sometimes in absentia as a majority of them refuse to appear before a court with handcuffs or via teleconference.

Only this week, MP Selma Irmak of Mardin Province got ten years in prison on charges of "membership in the PKK."

MP Ziyar Pir was sentenced to a year Tuesday for "for insulting a public servant who was performing his duties."

Last month Burcu Celik of Mus, mother to a three-year-old toddler, was punished with six years over accusations of "aiding a terrorist group."

A court in Istanbul ordered last week the appearing of Demirtas for "insulting Erdogan" for a 2015 speech he made upon returning from an official trip to Russia.

Nine pro-Kurdish MPs, scores of mayors, thousands of party officials and members remain jailed across prisons in Turkey.

 

Editing by Sam A.