Turkey’s pro – Kurdish party fought for its political survival on Wednesday after a prosecutor asked the country’s Supreme Court to close it to alleged links to militants carrying out a deadly uprising against the state.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long portrayed the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – Parliament’s third largest – as the political front of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK has carried out an uprising since 1984 that has killed tens of thousands and is recognized as a terrorist organization by Ankara and its Western allies.
But the HDP firmly denies formal links to the militants, saying it will be attacked because of its ardent opposition to Erdogan’s 18-year rule.
Wednesday’s request to ban the party came from a Supreme Court prosecutor investigating the HDP.
Prosecutor Bekir Sahin claimed that the HDP “acted together with PKK terrorists and affiliated organizations and acted as an extension of such organizations”.
He added that such activity threatened “to destroy the indivisibility between the state and the people”, reported the state news agency Anadolu.
The party condemned the indictment as a “hard blow to democracy” and urged its supporters to resist.
“We call on all democratic forces, the social and political opposition and our people to join a common struggle against this political coup,” it said in a statement.
The United States chimed in with its concerns, saying that a ban on the party would “undermine” democracy in Turkey further.
“We urge the Turkish government to respect freedom of expression in line with the protection of the Turkish constitution and with Turkey’s international obligations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Sit in protest
The Constitutional Court could theoretically throw away the prosecutor’s petition and not put the HDP on trial.
But Western governments are questioning the independence of the Turkish legal system and accusing Erdogan of using the courts as a political waste aimed at suppressing disagreement.
The Turkish lira lost more than 1.5 percent against the dollar immediately after the indictment was issued due to obvious concerns about a new tension between the Erdogan government and the West.
The political and legal attack on the HDP intensified after a shaky ceasefire between the militants and Erdogan’s government broke down in 2015.
It grew even stronger after Erdogan survived a failed coup in 2016 followed by political action that left tens of thousands imprisoned or abolished their government jobs.
The detainees included two former HDP co-chairmen who were jailed in 2016 and face decades in prison.
The Turkish prosecutor’s request to ban the party was carried out by state media while HDP legislators staged a sit-in protest in parliament over the expulsion of one of their members.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Riksdag had decided to remove Member of Parliament Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu from his seat, and its accompanying immunity from prosecution, over a post on social media that could put him behind bars for 2.5 years.
The insulting post contained an article in which the Kurdish militants called on the government to take a step towards peace.
Last month, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeal upheld Gergerlioglu’s 2018 conviction for “spreading terrorist propaganda” in the post.
“We will not be silent, we are not afraid, we will not submit,” parliamentarians shouted after Gergerlioglu was officially expelled.
‘A shocking attack’
HDP parliamentary group chairman Meral Danis Bestas said Gergerlioglu had become the 14th party’s legislator to be stripped of his immunity since 2016.
“You can not do as you please with members of parliament elected by the people,” her co-chair Saruhan Oluc told reporters.
Gergerlioglu has long irritated Erdogan’s government by highlighting a range of human rights abuses that are often ignored by the mainstream Turkish media.
His advocacy for female prisoners who were subjected to strip search particularly upset the government last year.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that Gergerlioglu’s insulting remarks did not promote violence and that he was removed from his seat before the Constitutional Court had a chance to review his appeal.
HRW’s Turkish director Emma Sinclair-Webb called it “a shocking attack on democratic norms and the rule of law, a violation of Turkey’s constitution, laws and obligations under international law.”
Turkish Parliament rapporteur Nacho Sanchez Amor called the potential imprisonment of Gergerlioglu “another serious step that further undermines confidence in Turkey’s parliamentary democracy”.