HRW: Turkey intensifying attack on pro-Kurdish party by removing mayors

Turkey’s removal and arrest of multiple democratically elected Kurdish mayors across southeastern Turkey violates voters’ rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a press statement on Thursday.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkey’s removal and arrest of multiple democratically elected Kurdish mayors across southeastern Turkey violates voters’ rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a press statement on Thursday. 

The New York-based human rights watchdog said that the Turkish government is intensifying its attack on the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) by removing legitimate mayors and preventing elected local councils across Turkey’s majority southeast from functioning.

Twenty-three mayors are now in pretrial detention on allegations that they committed terrorist offenses. One of them, Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, the elected mayor of Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality, will have a second trial hearing on Monday on charges of “membership of a terrorist organization.” 

“Although the prosecutor has issued a legal opinion requesting Mızraklı’s conviction, the evidence in an indictment against him does not support the charge that he was involved with terrorism or committed crimes,” HRW said.

“Removing, detaining, and putting on trial local Kurdish politicians as armed militants with no compelling evidence of criminal activity seems to be the Turkish government’s preferred way to wipe out political opposition,” Hugh Williamson, HRW Europe and Central Asia director, was quoted as saying in the statement. 

“These cases are not linked to any legitimate counterterrorism effort but trample the rights of the mayors and the 1.8 million voters who elected them.”

Dismissals and detention of Kurdish mayors from the left-leaning pro-Kurdish HDP party rapidly increased after Turkey’s Oct. 9, 2019 military incursion into northeast Syria to remove Syrian Kurdish forces and administration controlling the area, HRW said. 

Since then, the courts have ordered that mayors be held in pretrial detention pending completion of investigations and trials for alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

The removal of the mayors and disempowerment of local councils has effectively canceled the results of the March 31 local elections in the most populous cities of the southeast and eastern provinces, HRW said.

Thirty-two HDP mayors in the region have been stripped of their office and replaced with Ankara-appointed provincial and district governor “trustees.” The HDP won 65 municipalities in the region in the March local election. 

This is not the first time the Turkish government has dismissed HDP mayors or arrested HDP members. Under the state of emergency that followed the July 2016 attempted coup, the Turkish government took direct control of 94 HDP municipalities and removed mayors and councils who had won at the polls in 2014 local elections.

Demirtas, the former co-chair of the HDP and a previous presidential candidate, was detained and put in prison in November 2016 along with nine other lawmakers in a crackdown that purged President Tayyip Erdogan’s political rivals shortly after a failed military coup attempt.

HDP MP Gülistan Koçyiğit, during the two days of the annual EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) conference in the European Parliament, pointed out that Demirtas in the past freely spoke at the EUTCC conference and stated that “thousands of brothers and sisters are in jail because they spoke out for a freer and better future and were ready to pay the price for our struggle.”

“We continue to keep fighting but we need to speak out,” she said. “You need to fight on their behalf.”

Therefore, Human Rights Watch called on Turkey to end the “politically motivated use of terrorism charges to detain and prosecute political opponents.” 

“Turkey used its military incursion into northeast Syria as a pretext to intensify its crackdown on a democratically elected parliamentary opposition party,” HRW Europe and Central Asia director Williamson was quoted in the HRW press release. 

“The Erdogan administration is closing down legal politics in the southeast and potentially fueling support for violent, undemocratic and illegal alternatives.”

Editing by John J. Catherine