EP slams Turkey for pressure on opposition, particularly HDP

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The European Parliament (EP) condemned the Turkish government for its repressive policies targeting opposition parties, particularly the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in a resolution it adopted on Thursday.

In its decision adopted by 603 votes in favor, two against and 67 abstentions, the EP urged the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to make sure that all parties can “freely and fully exercise their legitimate activities in accordance with the basic principles of a pluralist and democratic system.”

Condemning the murder of HDP member and employee Deniz Poyraz, the EP expressed its condolences to her relatives and friends and stressed that the case must be thoroughly investigated.

Poyraz was killed in an attack on the HDP office in İzmir on June 17. The incident came at a time of increased pressure on the party, accused of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US, as it faces a closure case on terrorism charges, and when hundreds of its politicians including two former co-chairs are behind bars on politically motivated charges.

In the resolution Turkish authorities were urged to “refrain from fueling incitement against the HDP and to take the necessary measures to protect the party’s offices and officials, including MPs and elected local councilors and co-mayors.”

The efforts to dissolve the HDP and introduce bans on some 500 of its politicians were also denounced in the resolution, titled “The repression of the opposition in Turkey, specifically HDP,” which recalled the “crackdown on the party that has been going on for several years, and which has seen thousands of party members, executives, MPs, local councilors and co-mayors tried, mainly on terrorism-related charges.”

The EP reminded that it is essential to ensure the HDP’s participation in Turkey’s democratic system for making Turkish society more inclusive and for paving the way for the peaceful settlement of the Kurdish issue.

In early January legal action was brought against 108 people including jailed Kurdish leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ in connection to street protests in the country’s Southeast in 2014 that claimed the lives of 37 people. At that time Demirtaş had called for street protests in support of Kurdish fighters in the Syrian town of Kobani while accusing Ankara of failing to provide adequate help to Kobani and of supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which had laid siege to the town.

The EP also expressed its concerns regarding pressures on Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, particularly citing “the confiscation of party brochures by court order, the threats made publicly against him and the physical attacks on him; condemns the request to lift the immunity of Mr Kılıçdaroğlu on the basis of his political statements, including his prosecution for allegedly insulting the President of Turkey, for which he faces a sentence of up to four years; reiterates its serious concern about the continuous political and judicial harassment of Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the Istanbul provincial chair of the CHP.”

The efforts to lift the legislative immunity of 20 deputies from six opposition parties and the verbal attack against İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener during her visit to Rize were also cited in the resolution as proof of the hostile environment for the opposition in Turkey.

In the same context, the EP disapproved of the removal of pro-Kurdish mayors from office through judicial process as well as political, legislative and administrative measures designed to paralyze the municipalities run by the mayors of opposition parties in Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir.

The ruling AKP replaced many HDP mayors elected in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast in 2019 with government-appointed trustees under a government decree authorizing the Interior Ministry to remove elected officials, issued under a two-year-long state of emergency declared after a 2016 coup attempt. According to a report prepared by the HDP in August 2020, 146 mayors from the HDP and other regional Kurdish parties had been removed by the ministry. Fifty-one of them were elected in the local polls of March 2019 and the remainder in 2015.

The EP said it “is deeply concerned by this serious backsliding on the freedom of the opposition parties to function, which reveals the dire human rights situation in Turkey and the continued erosion of democracy and the rule of law, in violation of the Copenhagen criteria.”

The resolution called on the EU Delegation to Turkey to observe ongoing trials, particularly including the “Kobani trial,” make public statements and request prison visits.

“Apart from improvements in foreign policy issues, progress on any positive agenda that could be offered to Turkey should also be dependent on improvements in the civil and human rights and rule of law situation in the country, including women’s rights, such as those guaranteed by the Istanbul Convention, religious freedom, and the rights of ethnic minorities and LGBTI community,” the resolution said.

During the general session debating the resolution, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell took to the floor, calling on Ankara to fully respect fundamental democratic values, the rule of law and freedom of political organization, the core values of the European political system. Borrell said dissolution of the HDP would “reinforce the concerns that fundamental rights have deteriorated in Turkey.”

Nacho Sánchez Amor, S&D MEP and EP standing rapporteur on Turkey, criticized the European Council’s decision to propose a positive agenda to Turkey, given the existing conditions, arguing that the goal of the Turkish government is to “silence” the opposition.

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