A high-ranking official from the European Union has criticized Turkey for its growing pressure on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), dozens of whose members are behind bars on politically motivated charges.
Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy as well as vice president of the European Commission, said in a statement released through his spokesperson Peter Stano on Tuesday that the European Union is gravely concerned about the continuing pressure on the HDP and several of its members, which he said had recently materialized through arrests, the replacement of elected mayors, what seem to be politically motivated judicial proceedings and the attempt to lift the parliamentary immunity of members of parliament.
A government-led crackdown on the HDP reached new heights following a failed coup in July 2016 as Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) launched a massive crackdown on its opponents under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. The party’s former co-chairpersons, Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, who were arrested in November 2016 on terrorism charges, are still behind bars.
“These developments add to Turkey’s non-implementation of the ECtHR’s ruling on the release of Mr. Selahattin Demirtaş as well as the detention of hundreds of local politicians, elected office holders and of members of the HDP on terrorism-related charges,” said Borrell, referring to Turkey’s insistence on keeping Demirtaş in jail despite two rulings from the European Court of Human Rights calling for his immediate release.
“Any alleged wrongdoing or crime needs to be subject to due process and the presumption of innocence must be safeguarded. As a long-standing member of the Council of Europe and a candidate country, Turkey must safeguard its democratic system, including respect for human rights and the rule of law and the freedom of political association,” Borrell said.
According to a report released Dec. 10 by the HDP on the occasion of Human Rights Day, 93 HDP provincial co-chairs, 193 HDP district co-chairs and one town co-chair have been arrested since July 2015. In the same period 18 HDP deputies including the party’s former co-chairs, 23 central executive board (MYK) members, 21 party council members and more than 800 provincial and district officials have been arrested. Seven former HDP deputies and 15 MYK members are currently in jail. In addition the parliamentary membership of 13 lawmakers has been revoked. HDP deputies currently in jail are Demirtaş, Yüksekdağ, İdris Baluken, Çağlar Demirel, Abdullah Zeydan, Gülser Yıldırım and Musa Farisoğulları.
In a recent development Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals last Friday upheld a prison sentence of two years, six months given to rights advocate and HDP lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda, a move that has sparked outrage in Turkey and beyond because Gergerlioğlu is respected by many for being an outspoken defender of human rights.
HDP mayors have also received their share of the crackdown on the party as the government replaced 48 HDP mayors, elected in 2019, with government-appointed trustees. A total of 37 HDP mayors were arrested, 17 of whom are still in jail.
The AKP accuses the HDP of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU. The HDP denies the claim.