ANKARA: A legal case has been launched to close the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest parliamentary party in Turkey, provoking strong reactions about the downgrading of political freedom in the country.
The Court of Cassation filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court on March 17 asking for the closure of the HDP, alleging it had collaborated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) “and aimed to damage and break the unity of the state with the Turkish people.”
Prosecutor Bekir Sahin, who was assigned to his post by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan despite ranking fourth out of five candidates, also sought a political ban on more than 600 HDP members and financial restrictions on the party by cutting it off from Treasury aid.
The HDP called Sahin’s move a “new coup” against democracy with a governmental attempt to “weaponize the judiciary.”
It denies accusations of links to the PKK, and has reached out to all segments of Turkish society in order to differentiate itself from past pro-Kurdish parties. This broader approach has won votes from liberal segments of society, including minorities and white collar workers.
The launch of a legal case to ban the HDP triggered both domestic and international reactions about the downgrading of political freedoms, the rule of law and pluralism in Turkey.
The country was assessed as being “not free” in the Freedom in the World 2021 Index from Freedom House, with a paltry 32/100 score.
“Unapologetically toward the end of pluralism,” tweeted Nacho Sanchez Amor, who is the European Parliament's new rapporteur on Turkey. "What reaction does Turkey expect now from the European Union? A positive agenda?”
The US also warned about efforts to dissolve the HDP. President Joe Biden administration’s policy will mainly focus on Turkey’s democracy deficit and shortcomings in the country’s rule of law.
“We are monitoring the initiation of efforts to dissolve the Peoples' Democratic Party, a decision that would unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters, further undermine democracy in Turkey, and deny millions of Turkish citizens their chosen representation,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Several HDP lawmakers, including former co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, are behind bars while 12 have lost their parliamentary seats.
Dozens of HDP mayors have also been booted out of office since elections in March 2019.
Hours before the lawsuit was filed, HDP lawmaker Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu lost his parliamentary seat for a social media post he had shared two years before being elected.
“HDP’s senior leaders and spokespeople, through their words and deeds, have repeatedly and consistently proved that they are the PKK’s political wing,” tweeted Fahrettin Altun, presidential communication chief.
Altun hinted at the possibility of subjecting the HDP to a punitive measure, rather than closure. Cutting the party off from Treasury grants is one of the options being suggested as an alternative to shutting it down.
It is the first time that a closure case has been lodged against a political party since 2008, when Erdogan’s own party survived such an attempt.
In 2015 he said: “Individuals should be punished for their mistakes, rather than an entire party.”
But his nationalistic coalition partner, Devlet Bahceli, is known for his staunch criticism of the HDP and has been pushing for its closure for a long time.
“As the famous saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Necdet Ipekyuz, the HDP deputy for the southeastern province of Batman, told Arab News.
The HDP would be the seventh pro-Kurdish party to be banned from Turkey’s political scene, he said, with a new movement emerging each time from the ashes of predecessors.
“The European Court of Human Rights has always condemned Turkey in the past for closing the precedents of the HDP. They cannot ignore the six million votes that were given to the HDP, which has always been a party to favor liberties. What they have to do is to ask why millions of citizens vote for that party and not another.”
He added that the move to close the HDP, which has 54 parliamentary seats, was a message to all dissident voices in Turkey.
“Therefore all opposition parties, media and civil society should act in unison against such a politically motivated decision that can never be justified with legal grounds. The government lost all its political, social and economic narrative and it turns toward more polarization by taking the HDP, the third largest party in the parliament, as a useful target.”
The fresh crackdown on the HDP coincided with a recently announced human rights action plan by the government in a bid to boost freedom of expression and rule of law.