Turkey has never been welcoming for Kurdish politicians. But the scale of the crackdown on Kurdish politics is something unseen since the early 2000s.
At least 3 members of the Parliament from a pro-Kurdish party were detained in Turkey on Monday, the latest chapter in a series of arrests that put at least 27 lawmakers in prison in the past 80 days. The total number of imprisoned lawmakers from the People’s Democracy Party (HDP) dropped to 12 after Idris Baluken, another lawmaker in prison since Nov. 4 last year, was released on Monday.
HDP is Turkey’s 3rd largest opposition party. It’s leader? In Prison. It’s spokesman? In Prison. It’s mayors? In Prison. It’s party officials? In prison.
HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas was the politician who said he wouldn’t make Recep Tayyip Erdogan an executive president in 2015. He was Mr. Erdogan’s presidential rival a year before. And his party is now the kingmaker as Mr. Erdogan is facing a steep climb in an upcoming referendum that will decide on the president’s position in Turkish political system. Demirtas has been in prison since November and prosecutors are seeking up to 142 years in prison.
Turkish authorities don’t leave anything to chance. On Monday, HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas was detained, already 2nd time this week, and a court in Diyarbakir ruled to arrest her pending trial.
Another HDP lawmaker Nadir Yildirim was put behind bars in Van, an eastern province. He was later released. Party spokesman and lawmaker Ayhan Bilgen was also among the 3 deputies detained on Monday. A court is yet to decide to arrest or release him.
Diyarbakir prosecutors also issued an arrest warrant for lawmaker Ziya Pir, who is facing 33 years in prison on terrorism charges. He was still on the loose as of Monday evening.
Monday’s arrests also pointed out a daunting reality ahead of the referendum on constitutional changes. Observers are speculating that the upsurge in the arrest of Kurdish politicians, from Parliament to municipalities, is designed to whip up nationalistic sentiments and secure their votes. The continued fighting against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish rebel group, also secured the backing of the nationalist party in constitutional voting.
Commentators argue that a string of arrest of Kurdish lawmakers and the closure of their media outlets provide crucial political fodder to Mr. Erdogan before the referendum.
Two Kurdish lawmakers, Tugba Hezer Ozturk and Faysal Sariyildiz, are also sought for arrest and exiled abroad.
The increased crackdown on Kurdish political actors comes amid a broader repression in the civil society and the media. Only on Monday, at least 2 journalists were detained on terrorism charges.
Journalist Hamza Gunerigok, a TV anchor from public broadcaster TRT, was detained on Monday as he was trying to flee Turkey for Greece by illegally crossing the border. He was later arrested pending trial on terrorism charges. Another journalist, Baris Ince, Birgun daily’s editor, was briefly detained on Monday.