ANKARA: Turkish authorities have arrested 17 Kurdish politicians, including the co-mayor of Kars province, Ayhan Bilgen, who has been replaced by a government-appointed trustee.
Ankara has justified the crackdown by accusing the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a claim denied by the HDP.
In local elections in March 2019, the HDP won 65 municipalities nationwide, but 48 mayors affiliated with the party were replaced by trustees, while some were not given mandates.
Bilgen told his lawyers that he and other Kurdish politicians had been poisoned while in custody and were not taken to hospital.
“The government’s various moves to prevent the HDP from functioning and remove key figures like Ayhan Bilgen from political office are all about preventing opposition politics,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Arab News.
The arrests were ordered by a court in Ankara as part of an investigation into the HDP’s alleged involvement in violent protests in October 2014 against Daesh’s siege of the Syrian town of Kobane.
At least 37 people were killed during the protests, and the government held the HDP responsible.
An application has been made to lift the parliamentary immunity of seven HDP lawmakers to include them in the investigation.
HRW said this is “another worrying sign of the erosion of rights and the rule of law in Turkey,” and “part of the Turkish government’s policy to criminalize political opposition.”
The HDP is the third-largest party in Parliament, having gained 12 percent of the votes during the June 2018 parliamentary elections.
Sinclair-Webb said the crackdown is a major violation of the right to association and an attack on the principle of the right to free elections, especially as seven MPs are at risk of losing their immunity and being prosecuted.
“What the government is doing against the HDP is a threat to all opposition parties and an attack on the democratic process,” she added.
Meanwhile, an investigation has rejected the interior minister’s claim that the iconic football club of the predominantly Kurdish Diyarbakir province acts on the PKK’s orders.