A promise by the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) to clamp down on those suspected of supporting terrorism has extended to members of HDP (People’s Democratic Party) – Turkey’s third largest political party, known for its pro-Kurdish views. HDP’s Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı (pictured above), the co-mayors of Diyarbakır were arrested late on Tuesday 25 Oct.
Kışanak was detained at Diyarbakır Airport after returning from a trip to Ankara where she had given testimony about the failed coup in July. Anlı was taken into custody after police stormed his home. Former Batman MP Ayla Akat Ata, who is part of DBP, another pro-Kurdish political party, was also arrested. All three are allegedly affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a terrorist organisation.
Following Kışanak and Anlı’s arrests, HDP demanded they are “released immediately” adding that, “our people won’t accept it and will use their democratic rights”.
However, on Sunday a court ruled that Kışanak, Anlı and Ata will remain in custody after they were charged with terror related offenses.
Kışanak, a former HDP MP before her 2014 election as Mayor of Diyarbakır, was charged with “being a member of an armed terrorist group.” The Prosecutor’s Office claim Kışanak has been promoting separatism for Kurds in the region and also using the council’s vehicles to transport coffins of PKK fighters for burial.
Anlı was charged with “trying to separate land under the state’s sovereignty” following his efforts to implement self-rule in Diyarbakır in 2015.
The Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office also levelled charges at Ata, who is accused of “managing a terrorist organisation.” Ata is a lawyer by profession who has served on the defence team for Abdullah Öcalan.
A furious Selahattin Demirtaş, HDP’s co-chair, responded to the developments by stating that, “Arrest is a legal term, but there is no law. This is abduction and kidnapping,” adding that there were no “fair trials” in Turkey, only “political operations.”
International commentators have also voiced their concerns. On 25 Oct., Aaron Stein, a fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington tweeted, “The reverberation of this decision will have a considerable impact on Turkish domestic politics and will have reverberations on foreign policy. This will contribute to the cycle of violence and may be used to justify assassination attempts against ruling party officials by the PKK.”
“Coup by trustees”
Last month, police in the northern district of Tokat detained eight members of HDP, including deputy chair Alp Altınörs. Two were released on police bail, with the remaining six, including Altınörs, held in custody on suspicion of supporting the PKK.
HDP described the arrests as “unlawful” and “a blow to democratic politics”.
It follows thousands of Kurdish teachers being sacked or suspended from their posts by the Turkish authorities, while over a dozen Kurdish media outlets were closed down.
Also in September, 28 mayors of towns in southeast Turkey were then sacked under the provisions of the emergency laws that came into force following the coup attempt in July. They were replaced with trustees appointed by the government. HDP labelled the move a “coup by trustees”.
Lifting of political immunity
On March 22 of this year, the Turkish Parliament voted to lift the political immunity of MPs suspected of various offences. The decision resulted in legal proceedings commencing against multiple HDP MPs. They included HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, İzmir MP Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Ankara MP Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Hakkari MP Selma Irmak, who are all accused of supporting terrorism.
An article in Daily Sabah cited multiple examples of why HDP deputies faced criminal charges. The pro-government paper claims the MPs’ statements and behaviour was tantamount to support for terrorism.
Yüksekdağ was singled out for praising the PKK, which she allegedly described as “a national liberation movement and also an organisation that stands for democracy and equality.
In August 2015, Kürkçü was broadcast live telling the BBC that PKK terror attacks on Turkish security forces were not “a matter for condemnation”.
Several HDP politicians, including its two co-chairs, have already been called in for questioning as part of a wider probe into terrorism. Demirtaş, Yüksekdağ, and the other HDP MPs have so far refused to go to the prosecutors’ offices, raising the question if Turkish authorities will press ahead and arrest them.
Deadly violence resumed in July 2015
Last summer, a truce between security forces and the PKK that had stood since April 2013 came to a sudden end. Several thousand people have been killed following the resumption of the bitter conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish guerrillas, which has left some parts of southeast Turkey resembling war-torn Syria.
The battleground has extended beyond the Kurdish-majority areas, with the PKK’s youth wing undertaking a brutal bombing campaign in major cities such as Istanbul and Ankara, drawing widespread international condemnation.
President Erdoğan, once seen as a progressive on the Kurdish issue, which included opening talks with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in an effort to find a permanent peace to the decades-old Kurdish Problem, has since vowed to “crush” the PKK and all its affiliates.