U.S. calls on Turkey to respect democracy after move to close pro-Kurdish party
The United States urged Turkey to respect democracy and freedom of expression after a top prosecutor moved to shutter the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and one of the group's lawmakers was barred from parliament.
The U.S. government is closely following events in Turkey, Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department, said in a press release.
Prosecutors applied to Turkey’s Constitutional Court to shutter the HDP on Wednesday, citing the party’s alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its failure to condemn terrorism. The decision, which mirrored calls to outlaw the HDP by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, also sparked condemnation from senior members at the European Parliament.
In a statement the European Union (EU) also slammed the crackdown on Kurdish politicians. The EU said that the government move undermines its stated commitment to reforms. "As an EU candidate and a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey urgently needs to respect its core democratic obligations, including respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law", the EU said.
The legal indictment calls for banning 687 HDP members from politics for five years, including its senior politicians, the Diken news website reported.
Price said the legal move would unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters – more than five million people in Turkey voted for the HDP in elections in 2018 – and further undermine Turkish democracy.
“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,” Price said.
Turkey’s government says the HDP supports the PKK, which is an autonomy-seeking armed group labelled as terrorist by the United States and the European Union.
The closure case against the party threatens to further undermine relations between Turkey and its Western allies, who have intensified their criticism of Erdoğan’s democratic record since he acquired vast new executive powers at presidential elections in 2018.
Lawmakers at Turkey’s parliament also voted on Wednesday to rescind the membership of HDP deputy Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights activist who is accused of supporting terror through social media posts he wrote in 2016. The Turkish assembly is controlled by Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right ally the Nationalist Action Party (MHP).
Fahrettin Altun, an adviser to Erdoğan, said that claims that the HDP has ties to the PKK were indisputable.
“The HDP’s senior leaders and spokespeople, through their words and deeds, have repeatedly and consistently proved that they are the PKK’s political wing,” Altun said on a statement on Twitter.
“We urge all parties to respect Turkey’s independent judiciary and count on our legal system to deliver justice,” he said.
The Turkish authorities have seized scores of municipalities run by the HDP in the mainly-Kurdish southeast of Turkey since local elections in 2019, The courts have jailed its co-leader-Selahattin Demirtaş for alleged links to terrorism, prompting the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to call for his immediate release.
Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the MHP, welcomed the closure case, saying it was rooted in law and justice, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
"The HDP is a criminal organisation in a political guise," Bahçeli said. "It is a duty of honour to future generations to ensure that the party is closed and not re-opened in another name."
In his indictment filed with the Constitutional Court, Bekir Şahin, the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, said that the HDP is an undemocratic party, colludes with the PKK and aims to destroy the unity of the people and the state.
The party’s failure to condemn terrorism is sufficient grounds alone for its closure, Sahin said, citing the legal opinion of the ECHR.
The failure of politicians to condemn terror or a lack of response therein can be just as telling as overtly supportive action, the ECHR said in a 2009 ruling in favour of a Spanish court decision to close two Basque parties.
Political parties must be “scrupulously legal and democratic” and their failure to be so does not offer them protection under European legal conventions, the ECHR said in a paper on terrorism in December. It cited a successful case in the late 1990’s to close Turkey’s Islamist Refah Party, a predecessor of Erdoğan’s AKP, for violating the separation of religion and the state.
The case to shutter the HDP and the expulsion from parliament of Gergerlioğlu “represent significant new threats to political freedom and pluralism in Turkey”, non-government organisation Freedom House said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We also call on Turkey’s international partners to uphold basic democratic norms by condemning these abuses without delay,” Freedom House said.
(This story was updated with details of case in the fourth paragraph, quote from MHP leader in 15th.)