Turkey: Authorities’ Harassment of Opposition Figures Must Cease
8 October 2020
FIDH is deeply concerned about ongoing attacks and politically motivated criminal cases targeting legitimate political activities of members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). These alarming attacks have the potential to curb pluralism and affect political participation in Turkey, two core tenets of a democratic society founded on the rule of law. We urge the authorities in Turkey to immediately halt the judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of opposition figures and to ensure that they can carry out their mandate without hindrance and with respect for the ideological diversity that is fundamental to healthy democracies.
Another 21 HDP members were taken into police custody less than a week later in relation to another investigation launched by the Prosecutor’s Office in Kars. The Ministry of Interior subsequently removed seven of those HDP members, including the other co-mayor, vice president and members of the Municipal Assembly of Kars, from their offices in the Municipality.
FIDH denounces the judicial harassment of opposition politicians and believes that the criminal cases against them are politically motivated and aimed at obstructing HDP’s legitimate political activities. These developments must be read in the context of eroding rule of law and increased attacks against civil society and political opponents in Turkey. To date, no legal action has been taken to investigate the violent acts during the Kobani protests and all motions made at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey to launch investigations into the matter were either dismissed or rejected. The authorities in Turkey should promptly, effectively and thoroughly investigate the violent acts that occurred during the Kobani protests, rather than using these protests as a pretext to further crack down on the opposition.
We call upon the Government of Turkey:
• To immediately release all politicians who are held behind bars based on politically motivated criminal charges and without respect for their right to due process;
• To halt the judicial harassment of all HDP politicians and all other opponents, human rights defenders and civil society actors;
• To immediately halt the undemocratic practice of removing elected HDP mayors from their offices on the pretext of trumped-up charges brought against them, and reinstate those who have been removed from office as a result of such practices;
• To ensure pluralism and the effective exercise of the right to political participation and representation – essential tenets of a democratic society founded on the rule of law – and ensure that politicians, including from the opposition, can exercise their mandate without hindrance or fear of reprisals;
• To ensure respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights in the country, including through genuine reforms to guarantee judicial independence and the right to a fair trial.
We call upon the international community:
• To urge the Government of Turkey, bilaterally and in multilateral fora, to halt the ongoing undemocratic practices against the opposition, including the removal of HDP mayors, and ensure pluralism as well as the effective exercise of the right to political participation and representation in Turkey;
• To urge the Government of Turkey, bilaterally and in multilateral fora, to stop the judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of opponents and civil society members, human rights defenders and journalists; and to immediately release those who are arbitrarily detained.
On 25 September 2020, 20 HDP members from seven provinces across Turkey were taken into police custody, brought to Ankara, and their houses were raided in relation to an investigation launched into the Kobani protests. The HDP members include former HDP deputies and human rights defenders such as Mr. Ayhan Bilgen, former chairperson of Mazlum-Der human rights association, former executive of FIDH’s member organisation the Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği – IHD) and elected co-mayor of Kars, Ms. Ayla Akat Aka, former member and executive of IHD and founding member of several women’s rights organisations and initiatives in Diyarbakır, and Mr. Nazmi Gür, former member and executive of IHD.
The investigation is being conducted by the Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara. A confidentiality order was given, and the details of the case remain unknown. Based on the interrogations at the Prosecutor’s Office and before the Court, it is understood that the accusations concern a tweet that was shared via HDP’s Twitter account calling people to protest against a possible massacre in Kobani by ISIS. On 2 October 2020, the Court ordered the detention of 17 of the 20 HDP members, including the co-mayor of Kars, while releasing three on probation, including a travel ban.
Additionally, on 1 October 2020, another 21 HDP members, including the other co-mayor, vice president and members of Kars’ municipal assembly, were taken into police custody on the grounds of another investigation launched by the Prosecutor’s Office in Kars. A confidentiality order was issued on this occasion too, and the details of the case remain unknown to the public. Based on the interrogations at the Prosecutor’s Office, it is understood, however, that the case is based on the statements of three witnesses, identities of two are undisclosed. The case concerns the HDP members’ participation in a wide range of activities including:
• issuing press statements or holding conferences between 2014 and 2015;
• attending International Women’s Rights Day events;
• attending meetings of HDP’s local governance commission;
• conducting campaigns to aid families in need during the Covid-19 pandemic;
• attending funerals of PKK members (Kurdistan Workers’ Party);
• acting as an arbitrator in the peaceful resolution of local criminal acts, such as gender-based violence and blood vengeance.
Five members still remain in police custody in Kars awaiting interrogation, while 12 have already been detained by the court and another four were released on probation.