Turkey moves to ban pro-Kurdish HDP party

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ANKARA, March 18, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party was fighting
for its political survival on Wednesday after a prosecutor asked the
country’s top court to shut it down for alleged links to militants waging a
deadly insurgency against the state.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long portrayed the Peoples’ Democratic
Party (HDP) — parliament’s third-largest — as the political front of the
outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK has been waging an insurgency since 1984 that has killed tens of
thousands and is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its
Western allies.

But the HDP firmly denies formal links to the militants and says it is
coming under attack because of its fervent opposition to Erdogan’s 18-year
rule.

Wednesday’s request to ban the party came from a Supreme Court prosecutor
who is investigating the HDP.

Prosecutor Bekir Sahin alleged that the HDP “was acting together with PKK
terrorists and affiliated organisations, acting as an extension of such
organisations”.

He added that such activity threatened “to destroy the indivisibility
between the state and the people”, the Anadolu state news agency reported.

The party condemned the indictment as a “heavy blow to democracy” and
called on its supporters to resist.

“We call on all the democratic forces, the social and political opposition,
and on our people to join a common fight against this political coup,” it
said in a statement.

The United States chimed in with its concerns, saying a ban of the party
would “further undermine” democracy in Turkey.

“We call on the government of Turkey to respect freedom of expression in
line with protections in the Turkish constitution and with Turkey’s
international obligations,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a
statement.

– Sit-in protest –

The Constitutional Court could theoretically throw out the prosecutor’s
petition and not put the HDP on trial.

But Western governments question the Turkish justice system’s independence
and accuse Erdogan of using the courts as a political bludgeon aimed at
suppressing dissent.

The Turkish lira lost more than 1.5 percent against the dollar immediately
after the indictment was issued on apparent worries about a new bout of
tensions between Erdogan’s government and the West.

The political and legal assault on the HDP intensified after a shaky truce
between the militants and Erdogan’s government broke down in 2015.

It grew even stronger after Erdogan survived a failed coup bid in 2016 that
was followed by a political crackdown that saw tens of thousands jailed or
stripped of their state jobs.

Those detained included two former HDP co-chairs who were jailed in 2016
and face decades in prison.

The Turkish prosecutor’s request to ban the party was carried by state
media while HDP lawmakers staged a sit-in protest in parliament over the
expulsion of one of their members.

Parliament had earlier Wednesday decided to strip MP Omer Faruk
Gergerlioglu of his seat, and its accompanying immunity from prosecution,
over a social media post that could put him behind bars for 2.5 years.

The offending post featured an article in which the Kurdish militants urged
the government to take a step toward peace.

Turkey’s top appeals court last month upheld Gergerlioglu’s 2018 conviction
for “spreading terrorism propaganda” in the post.

“We’re not going to be silent, we’re not scared, we’re not going to
submit,” the MPs chanted after Gergerlioglu was officially expelled.

– ‘A shocking attack’ –

The HDP’s parliamentary group co-chair Meral Danis Bestas said
Gergerlioglu had become the 14th party lawmakers to have been stripped of his
immunity since 2016.

“You cannot do as you please with MPs elected by the people,” her fellow
co-chair Saruhan Oluc told reporters.

Gergerlioglu has long irritated Erdogan’s government by shining a light on
a variety of human rights violations that often go ignored by the mainstream
Turkish media.

His advocacy for female detainees subjected to strip searches particularly
angered the government last year.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that Gergerlioglu’s offending posts did not
promote violence and that he was stripped of his seat before the
Constitutional Court had a chance to review his appeal.

HRW’s Turkey director Emma Sinclair-Webb called it “a shocking attack on
democratic norms and the rule of law, a violation of Turkey’s constitution,
laws and obligations under international law.”

The European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur Nacho Sanchez Amor called the
potential jailing of Gergerlioglu “another serious step that further
undermines the trust in Turkey’s parliamentary democracy”.