Fears of crackdowns on Turkey’s Kurdish parties and voters

Fears of crackdowns on Turkey’s Kurdish parties and voters
Members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party take part in a protest against the detention of HDP activists in Istanbul. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2021

Fears of crackdowns on Turkey’s Kurdish parties and voters

Fears of crackdowns on Turkey’s Kurdish parties and voters
  • Houses of HDP members who attended peaceful demonstrations ‘have turned into prisons’

ANKARA: The debate around the closure of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — the third biggest party in the parliament — raises the specter of crackdowns on Kurdish voters like those seen during the 1990s.
Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the alliance partner of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), regularly repeats his calls for banning HDP, claiming the party still has “organic” ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — an accusation that is denied by the HDP.
But sources who spoke to Arab News claim that the government is instead working on alternative plans to erode public support for the Kurdish party and paralyze its political and financial functions.
Several Kurdish parties were banned in the past, paving the way for the launch of new ones with a broader voter base almost every time.
The government currently is working on lifting the parliamentary immunity of all HDP deputies who are subject to summary of proceedings on terror charges. So far, 56 deputies from HDP have 914 summaries of proceedings against them.
When these files are examined in the parliament with the support of the AKP and its ally MHP, the deputies may be arrested due to alleged “terror” links.
Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas, former co-chairs of the HDP, are still behind bars on terror-related charges, while dozens of local officials from the Kurdish party were detained on Monday following the death of 13 Turkish citizens, including policemen, soldiers and intelligence officers, who were held captive by the PKK in northern Iraq.
So far, the government has taken more than 47 of the 65 municipalities won by the HDP in Kurdish-majority provinces in the 2019 local elections by replacing mayors with trustees, on the ground of “terror-related” investigations against the HDP mayors.
In a press briefing on Feb. 17, the Human Rights Association warned that the homes of HDP members who attended peaceful demonstrations have been turned into prisons due to increasing house arrest sentences.
A new survey conducted by the pro-government Optimar company found that 66 percent of respondents were in favor of banning the HDP.
In another move, the election threshold in the country may also be lowered from 10 percent to five percent.
This is also expected to lower public support for the HDP as people who are normally not core voters of the Kurdish party support it during the elections to prevent it from remaining below the threshold.
According to Roj Girasun, director of the Diyarbakir-based Rawest Research Center, discussions about banning HDP in the political scene further increase anti-AKP sentiments among Kurdish voters.
“With the executive presidential system, the weight of the political parties and the parliament almost completely lost their significance. In case of a closure of the HDP, its voters will get further motivation to support the anti-Erdogan camp in any forthcoming elections because of the increased polarization in the country,” he told Arab News.
During the 2023 parliamentary and presidential elections, about 2 million young Kurds are expected to vote for the first time.
“According to our estimates, the HDP is the first choice for these new voters. The loyal voter share of the HDP is around 7-8 percent,” he said.
Now, the key question for Turkey is whether the government’s ally MHP, with its nationalistic vote potential, will exercise enough leverage on the government on the closure of the HDP.
Presidential communications director, Fahrettin Altun, tweeted a video on Sunday wth the message “PKK and HDP are one and the same.”
Galip Dalay, a doctoral researcher from Oxford University, thinks that debates about the HDP’s closure should be evolved around another discussion about the differentiation between what is good for Turkey and what is good for the ruling government.

Following the tragic death of Turkish officers in northern Iraq, the closure of the HDP became much more likely ...

Galip Dalay, Researcher

“Following the tragic death of Turkish officers in northern Iraq, the closure of the HDP became much more likely. I expect the government to opt for hard politics in order to overcome the failure of this rescue operation of the 13 hostages,” he told Arab News.
Experts underline that any move to ban the HDP will show that the government prioritizes its electoral advantages over the potential reactions of the international community, especially with the administration of US President Joe Biden focusing on weaknesses of democracy in its allies.
However, for Dalay, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now undecided about which option will bring him more public support in the upcoming elections.
“He is not categorically against banning the HDP. However, he may opt for bringing tougher conditions to benefit from a Treasury grant, which could lead to preventing the HDP from getting any financial assistance from the Treasury,” he said.
“With the latest wave of arrests, the government already paralyzed the HDP in a political sense by arresting top and medium-level officials of the party,” Dalay said.


Officials: Iran behind drone attack on US base in Syria

Updated 21 sec ago

Officials: Iran behind drone attack on US base in Syria

Officials: Iran behind drone attack on US base in Syria
WASHINGTON: US officials say they believe Iran was behind the drone attack last week at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based.
Officials said Monday the US believes that Iran resourced and encouraged the attack, but that the drones were not launched from Iran. They were Iranian drones, and Iran appears to have facilitated their use, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not been made public.
Officials said they believe the attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges, and that they hit both the US side of Al-Tanf garrison and the side where Syrian opposition forces stay.
There were no reported injuries or deaths as a result of the attack.
US and coalition troops are based at Al-Tanf to train Syrian forces on patrols to counter Daesh militants. The base is also located on a road serving as a vital link for Iranian-backed forces from Tehran all the way to southern Lebanon and Israel.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to provide details when asked about the report during a news conference Monday. He called it a “complex, coordinated and deliberate attack” and said the US has seen similar ones before from Shia militia groups that are backed by Iran. But he would not go into specifics and said he had no update on the munitions used in the attack.
Kirby also declined to say if troops were warned ahead of time or whether the US intends to make a military response.
“The protection and security of our troops overseas remains a paramount concern for the secretary,” Kirby said, referring to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, “and that if there is to be a response, it will be at a time and a place and a manner of our choosing, and we certainly won’t get ahead of those kinds of decisions.”
Pro-Iran media outlets have been saying that the attack on Tanf was carried out by “Syria’s allies” — an apparent reference to Iran-backed groups — in retaliation for an attack days earlier near the historic Syrian town of Palmyra. Israel has been blamed for the attack, but US officials say America was not involved with it.
The Al-Tanf attack came in a period of rising tensions with Iran. The Biden administration this week said international diplomatic efforts to get Iran back into negotiations to return to a 2015 nuclear deal were at a “critical place” and that patience Is wearing thin.
The last major Iranian attack on US forces was in January 2020, when Tehran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles on Al-Asad air base in Iraq. US and coalition troops were warned of the incoming missiles and were able to take cover, but more than 100 US service members received traumatic brain injuries as a result of the blasts.
The Iran attack was in response to the US drone strike earlier that month near the Baghdad airport that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
Two months after the Al-Asad assault, US fighter jets struck five sites in retaliation, targeting Iranian-backed Shiite militia members believed responsible for the January rocket attack.

Egypt’s President El-Sisi ends state of emergency after more than four years

Egypt’s President El-Sisi ends state of emergency after more than four years
Updated 1 min 45 sec ago

Egypt’s President El-Sisi ends state of emergency after more than four years

Egypt’s President El-Sisi ends state of emergency after more than four years
  • Since it was imposed in April 2017, it has been extended at three-month intervals

CAIRO: Egypt’s president said Monday he will not extend the state of emergency that had been imposed across the country for the first time in years.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi announced his decision in a Facebook post. He said the move came because “Egypt has become an oasis of security and stability in the region.”
Egypt first imposed a state of emergency in April 2017 and has extended it at three-month intervals since.
It was imposed following deadly church bombings and attacks on Coptic Christians that have killed more than 100 people and wounded scores. The government extended the order every three months after that.
The state of emergency allows for arrests without warrants, the swift prosecution of suspects and the establishment of special courts.
The emergency measure technically ended over the weekend.
(With AP and Reuters)


Iran uses death penalty to target protesters, human rights expert tells UN

The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran. (Reuters/File Photo)
The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 October 2021

Iran uses death penalty to target protesters, human rights expert tells UN

The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Javaid Rehman said he is particularly disturbed that authorities continue to sentence children to death, in violation of international law
  • The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, he was briefing the General Assembly on the latest annual report on the issue

NEW YORK: A human rights expert described executions carried out in Iran as “an arbitrary deprivation of life,” as he called on Tehran to reform its laws and abolish the death penalty. He said the punishment is often used as a political tool.

Javaid Rehman, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, told the General Assembly on Monday that the death sentence in the country is often imposed on “vague and arbitrary grounds.” He highlighted in particular three criminal charges used to target peaceful demonstrators and political opponents: waging war against God, corruption on earth, and armed rebellion.

“The entrenched flaws in law and in the administration of the death penalty in Iran mean that most, if not all, executions are an arbitrary deprivation of life,” Rehman said.

“The structural flaws of the justice system are so deep and at odds with the notion of rule of law that one can barely speak of a justice system.”

As he briefed the assembly on the fourth annual report on human rights in Iran, the independent expert said that in particular he was “extremely disturbed” by the practice in Iran of sentencing children to death.

“Iran remains one of very countries that continues this practice despite the absolute prohibition under international law,” he said.

The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran, including the repression of civic space, discrimination against religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, and the dire conditions inside prisons.


EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’

EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’
Updated 23 min 47 sec ago

EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’

EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’
  • IAEA says Tehran’s enrichment to high levels at Natanz plant is expanding
  • US backs EU-Iran discourse but calls Vienna ‘ultimate destination’

LONDON: The EU’s top negotiator will meet his counterpart from Tehran this week in Brussels for talks on restarting negotiations over Iran’s nuclear deal, a spokesman for the bloc said on Monday.
The EU and world powers are scrambling to try to get negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 accord back on track after the election of a hard-liner in Tehran.
Iran’s chief negotiator on the deal, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri, wrote on Twitter that he would be in Brussels on Wednesday “to continue our talks on result-oriented negotiations.”
EU spokesman Peter Stano said the meeting would involve the bloc’s lead negotiator Enrique Mora, who visited Tehran earlier this month to push Iran to restart full negotiations.
Stano said the EU’s diplomatic service was “sparing no efforts to resume talks of all parties in Vienna.”
The agreement between Iran and world powers to find a long-term solution to the now two-decade-old crisis over its controversial nuclear program has been moribund since former US president Donald Trump walked out of the deal in May 2018.
His successor Joe Biden has said he is ready to re-enter the agreement, so long as Iran meets key preconditions including full compliance with the deal whose terms it has repeatedly violated by ramping up nuclear activities since the US left the pact.
But the Vienna-based talks through intermediaries made little headway, before being interrupted by the election of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s president and suspended for the last four months.
The EU acts as coordinator for the deal that also involves Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.
This comes as the UN nuclear watchdog said on Monday that Iran is expanding its enrichment of uranium beyond the highly enriched threshold of 20 percent purity at a Natanz plant where it is already enriching to 60 percent, but the new activity does not involve keeping the product.
The move is likely to help Iran refine its knowledge of the enrichment process — something Western powers generally condemn because it is irreversible — but since this time the product is not being collected it will not immediately accelerate Iran’s production of uranium enriched to close to weapons-grade. It has, however, prompted the International Atomic Energy Agency to “increase the frequency and intensity of its safeguards activities” at the above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) at Natanz, the IAEA said in a report seen by Reuters. As of around 90 percent uranium is considered weapons-grade.
The IAEA said in a statement outlining the report that Iran informed it last week of changes to the setup of centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, at the plant — Iran would feed uranium enriched to up to 20 percent into limited numbers of extra centrifuges without collecting the product.
“On 25 October 2021, the Agency verified that Iran began feeding (uranium hexafluoride gas) enriched up to 20 percent U-235 into a single IR-6 centrifuge in R&D line 2 at PFEP and that the resulting product and tails streams were being re-combined,” the IAEA report said, meaning that after separating the enriched product it was mixed with the centrifuge’s waste and not kept.
Iran had said it planned to also feed uranium enriched to up to 20 percent into other single centrifuges or small- to medium-sized cascades, or clusters, of machines on the same line, but those were not being fed at the time, the IAEA said.
Meanwhile, the US said on Monday that it supported the EU’s engagement with Iran as coordinator of the lapsed nuclear deal, but stressed that the “ultimate destination” to try to revive the accord was to resume talks in Vienna.
“The EU is the JCPOA coordinator. And we are very supportive of the EU’s engagement with Iran in that capacity,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, referring to the deal by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “That said ... the ultimate destination needs to be Vienna,” Price added. 
(With AFP and Reuters)


Houthis abduct dozens of civilians in wake of deadly Marib siege

Houthis abduct dozens of civilians in wake of deadly Marib siege
Updated 25 October 2021

Houthis abduct dozens of civilians in wake of deadly Marib siege

Houthis abduct dozens of civilians in wake of deadly Marib siege
  • Militia abducted and questioned relatives of fighters, including some children, and intimidated them into revealing information about the whereabouts of their relatives
  • Local activists believe that the Houthis have abducted and forcibly disappeared more than 100 people in Abedia, blown up houses of government officials and looted property

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have raided homes in Abedia district, south of Marib district, abducting dozens of civilians and transporting them to undisclosed locations, a Yemeni rights group said.

The Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, documented the abduction of 47 civilians in Abedia as the Houthis broke into the houses of residents, searching for Yemeni army soldiers and tribesmen who resisted their occupation of the district.

The militia abducted and questioned relatives of the fighters, including some children, and intimidated them into revealing information about the whereabouts of their relatives.

They also abducted wounded civilians and turned public facilities such as schools into detention centers, the organization said.

“We hold the Houthi armed group fully responsible for the lives and safety of all its captives, and demand that they immediately stop all abduction operations, and release all captives,” the organization said in the statement, urging international rights groups to exercise pressure on the militia.

“We call upon the UN and its special envoy for Yemen, the Office of the High Commissioner Office for Human Rights and the international community to mount the needed pressure upon the Houthi armed group in order to release all captives and forcibly disappeared persons from Abedia.”

Last week, the Houthis seized control of most of Abedia after laying siege on more than 35,000 civilians and government troops who took up arms and fought off incursions into the district.

The Houthi siege of Abedia pushed trapped civilians into starvation as the rebels obstructed the distribution of humanitarian aid and banned people from entering or leaving the district.

The siege sparked outrage inside and outside Yemen as activists and international bodies, including the UN Security Council, demanded that the Houthis allow aid workers and humanitarian assistance to reach trapped citizens.

However, the militia ignored the appeals and intensified missile and ground attacks until they forced a breakthrough last week and managed to storm the district’s center.

Local activists believe that the Houthis have abducted and forcibly disappeared more than 100 people in Abedia, blown up houses of government officials and looted property.

“The Houthi militia has committed brutal crimes in Abedia, far from the eyes of the media and local and international human rights organizations,” Mohammed Al-Salehi, editor of news website Marib Press, told Arab News on Monday.

In Sanaa, meanwhile, local and international rights groups and government officials said that the Houthis have expelled the families of two dozen dead academics at Sanaa University from their homes.

Ordered by the Houthi-allied president of Sanaa University Al-Qassem Abbas, armed militia members on Sunday stormed the houses of the families in Sanaa and asked them to leave voluntarily, threatening eviction by force.

In the past, the Houthis asked families of dead and pensioned professors to leave homes and flats given to them by Sanaa University as the movement sought to replace them with new academics.

The families said that they would be forced to sleep in the streets if they left the rent-free homes as the Houthis have not paid the salaries of their dead relatives and other public servants since late 2016.

The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties warned that the Houthis prevented some families of dead professors from entering homes and looted furniture and valuables, demanding the group stop raids on the houses of Sanaa academics.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani condemned the raids and urged the international community and rights groups to pressure the Houthis into ending evictions.

“This terrorist crime is part of a series of abuses by Houthi militia against the elite of society, including academics, scholars and intellectuals, restricting them in their livelihoods and pushing them to emigrate,” he said on Twitter.