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Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party under pressure as calls increase for its shutdown




23 Feb 2021

ISTANBUL – Turkey’s third opposition party, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), comes under increasing pressure amid a series of court cases and growing calls for its closure by nationalist politicians in Ankara.

Government officials have long accused the party of fostering ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and HDP members are increasingly targeted after the death of 13 Turkish hostages in Iraqi Kurdistan at the start of the war. months, which Ankara said were executed by PKK militants during an attempted rescue operation.

In the aftermath of the event, the Turkish police detained 718 people on February 15, including HDP officials, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has since vowed to intensify a campaign against the party. This comes at a time when ongoing legal proceedings may lead to the waiver of immunities for nine HDP lawmakers to prosecute on terrorism-related charges, while a separate court ruling could see an HDP official withdrawn from parliament, maybe this week.

At the same time, Erdogan’s ally and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chairman Devlet Bahceli reiterated his calls for the HDP to shut down, saying his party would do so soon. apply to start the process in a February 16 speech.

“Is there a strong Democrat who knows another formula for cutting off the PKK’s leg in parliament other than shutting down the HDP?” Bahceli asked at a meeting of the MHP parliamentary group that day.

Taken together, recent political rhetoric and lawsuits involving the HDP have raised concerns among human rights defenders about the democratic setback in Turkey. The developments come after former party co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag were jailed in 2016 on charges of terrorism and more than 50 of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the 2019 municipal elections were replaced by state-appointed administrators.

“Bahceli demanded that [Erdogan] take a stronger stance on the HDP; it’s asking for a crackdown if not a closure, and Erdogan is giving in to that demand right now, ”Merve Tahiroglu, program coordinator for Turkey at Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy, told Al-Monitor.

Tahiroglu added, “Closing the party would constitute a whole new level of repression.”

Amid responses from Ankara officials to deaths in Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkish authorities on Sunday opened an investigation into HDP lawmaker Dirayet Dilan Tasdemir for alleged links to the PKK. Speaking to Turkish broadcaster A Haber on Saturday, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the MP had recently visited Gara, the area where the rescue operation took place.

Tasdemir denied the allegation at a press event on Monday, saying she would file a criminal complaint against Soylu.

“He gave my name but presented no evidence,” Tasdemir said Monday in Ankara. “He committed a character assassination based on rumors.”

Separately, a Turkish court on Friday confirmed a prison sentence against HDP MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu for disseminating terrorist propaganda. The decision could lead to the revocation of Gergerlioglu’s status as a deputy as soon as the court decision is read in the chamber.

Gergerlioglu would join two other HDP lawmakers who were stripped of their parliamentary seats and jailed last year along with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Enis Berberoglu, who was later released and restored in his role earlier this month.

Parliamentary President Mustafa Sentop Monday shot comparisons between the case of Gergerlioglu and that of Berberoglu in a message interpreted by observers as meaning that the HDP deputy would soon be removed from the body.

“It will happen soon; that’s why they did it, ”Hisyar Ozsoy, co-spokesperson for foreign affairs and Diyarbakir’s deputy for the HDP, told Al-Monitor.

“The reason I think he’s targeted are the strip searches and the talks he’s introduced,” Ozsoy continued, referring to increased control in Ankara over the tactics used by the military. security forces. “He was very effective, I would say, in raising awareness of these kinds of human rights violations.

Meanwhile, the Ankara Attorney General’s Office on Friday prepared legal proceedings for nine HDP lawmakers, asking for their parliamentary immunities to be lifted so that they could stand trial for allegedly staging the violent Kobani protests in 2014 that killed 43 people. With nearly 100 defendants, HDP officials indicted in the case include Garo Paylan, Huda Kaya, Sezai Temelli, Pero Dundar, Fatma Kurtulan, Serpil Kemalbay, Meral Danis Bestas. Hakk Saruhan Oluc and the co-chair of the Pervin Buldan party.

Ozsoy said the efforts to lift the immunities of lawmakers were an attempt to weaken the HDP ahead of elections slated for 2023 and he expected pressure on the party to increase in the meantime.

“In the coming months there will certainly be more criminalization and smear campaigns,” Ozsoy told Al-Monitor. “The media and some politicians will be very aggressive towards the HDP.”

Tahiroglu said recent developments were “worrying” and that Bahceli’s repeated calls for the party to shut down, coupled with recent allegations linking HDP MPs to hostage deaths in Iraqi Kurdistan, could turn into a campaign of its own. whole against party lawmakers.

“Most people shape their understanding based on what is reported in the media,” Tahiroglu told Al-Monitor. “Much of the [domestic] the media just ignore HDP … but there is a very strong faction actively broadcasting HDP.

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