Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is cracking down on his political opponents, as his party called on the Turkish courts to ban the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party on Wednesday.
After years of actions which amounted to the recession of the party, Erdogan appears to be acting more forcefully against them, drawing a rebuke from the US State Department, which warned that the move will “undermine democracy.”
The left-wing People’s Democratic Party has been a thorn in the side of Erdogan for years, and the Turkish state has detained its representatives, as well as mayors who belong to the party, on various charges.
US calls Erdogan moves “troubling;” monitoring the situation
Late on Wednesday, the US State Department issued a statement saying that the US is “closely following events in Turkey, including troubling moves on March 17 to strip Member of Parliament Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his parliamentary seat.
“We are also monitoring the initiation of efforts to dissolve the People’s 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.
“We call on Turkey to respect freedom of expression”
In a message directed at Erdogan, the State Department says: “We call on the Government of Turkey to respect freedom of expression in line with protections in the Turkish constitution and with Turkey’s international obligations.”
The HDP has been linked by Erdogan with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, which has been deemed a terrorist organization by the US and a host of other countries.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry flatly rejected the American rebuke, saying “Everyone must wait for the ruling the Constitutional Court will make in this process. Commenting on an ongoing judicial process amounts to intervention in the judiciary.”
Nacho Sanchez Amor, the EU’s rapporteur on Turkey, also slammed Erdogan’s actions, stating “Unapologetically (moving) towards the end of pluralism. What reaction does Turkey expect now from the European Union? A positive agenda?”
Turkey has been awaiting an invitation to the European Union for decades, with preliminary talks leading to its eventual admittance ongoing for years. However, its prospects for joining the powerful bloc have dimmed over the past year, as it has come into conflict with member states, including Greece and Cyprus, for incursions onto their territorial waters.
Kurdish struggle for a voice in Turkey under Erdogan
The HDP, representing the ideals of many Kurds in Turkey, was founded in the southeastern part of the country in 2012. It quickly grew in support until it passed the 10% threshold to allow it to take part in the general elections and seat members in Parliament in 2015.
In addition to its left-leaning political bent, the party also became problematical for Erdogan since it prevented Erdogan from attaining a majority in Parliament with his Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
Erdogan has continued to tar the HDP with the brush of terrorism since that time, attempting to link it with the outlawed PKK.
After the Turkish Parliament removed immunity for its own lawmakers in 2016, HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas and nine other MPs from the party were arrested.
Demirtas was charged with 33 crimes, including leading a terrorist organization and instigating violence against the Turkish state in what many observers maintain are completely trumped-up charges.
142-year prison term sought for leader of party
Prosecutors claim the party was “acting as an arm of the PKK” and “attempting to disrupt the unity and territorial integrity of the state.”
In a particularly draconian move, Turkish prosecutors are seeking a jail term for him amounting to 142 years.
The European Court of Human Rights has called Demirtas’ ongoing detention illegal and demanded his immediate release.
The Turkish campaign against HDP politicians and mayors, which gathered strength after 2019, was described as “undue repression” by European Union officials last month.
Reuters reported that the leader of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli, an ally of the Turkish leader, hailed the dissolution of the opposition party on Thursday, saying that it should be closed down, “never to be opened again.”