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Pro-Kurdish party lawmaker detained while trying to flee Turkey

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Semra Güzel, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who lost her parliamentary immunity due to terrorism charges filed in March and for whom an arrest warrant was issued later the same month, has been detained while trying to flee the country, local media reported on Friday.

The development was announced on Twitter by Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who said Güzel was captured in a joint operation carried out by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and İstanbul Police Department while she was on her way to northwestern Edirne province as part of an attempt to flee to neighboring Greece.

According to a written statement released by the Interior Ministry, individuals identified only by the initials A.G. and F.D. who were accompanying Güzel in the car in which she was captured were also detained.

The ministry said Güzel was carrying a fake passport and A.G. had a criminal record for smuggling migrants, forgery of official documents and breaking and entering, while F.D. had a record for disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization.

Güzel was at the center of a controversy due to photos that emerged last year showing her posing with a militant from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to whom she said she had been engaged. The photos showed Güzel with now-deceased PKK militant Volkan Bora in a PKK camp in Iraq in 2014. The photos were allegedly seized from Bora’s mobile phone after he was killed in a clash with Turkish security forces in southeastern Turkey in 2017.

The photos sparked calls for the removal of Güzel’s immunity and the launch of criminal proceedings against her due to her alleged affiliation with the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community and which has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984. A summary of proceedings against her was drafted earlier this year by an Ankara prosecutor who sought to remove her immunity from prosecution.

Güzel said in a written statement that she was engaged to Bora and was able to visit him in 2014 while Turkey was conducting peace negotiations with the PKK. She also said she was asked to wear PKK camouflage due to security and that the government was aware at the time that civilians were visiting Iraq to see their relatives, as Ankara was directly talking to the PKK to bring the conflict to an end.

In late March an arrest warrant was issued for Güzel after she lost her parliamentary immunity earlier the same month when 313 lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the opposition İYİ (Good) Party and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voted in favor while 52 voted against.

The prosecution of members of parliament has been possible since the CHP and the MHP lent support to a 2016 proposal submitted by the AKP on removing deputies’ immunity from prosecution. The immunity of all deputies who faced prosecution at the time was lifted in May 2016.

The political and legal assault on the HDP, which intensified after the truce between Kurdish militants and the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan broke down in 2015, grew even stronger after Erdoğan survived a coup attempt in July 2016 that was followed by a sweeping political crackdown.

The party currently faces a closure case on charges of “attempting to destroy the indivisibility between the state and the people.”

Hundreds of HDP politicians, including the party’s former co-chairs, are behind bars on terrorism charges, while most of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast in 2019 have been replaced by government-appointed trustees.

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