Turkey: Erdoğan imprisons parliamentary opposition and silences media

Arrest of Selahattin Demirtaş on November 4.

The regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took a further leap towards undisguised dictatorship, intensifying its crackdown against the democratic and left-wing opposition, independent media and the Kurdish population.

On October 25, Co-Mayors of the Diyarbakır (Amed) Metropolitan Municipality, Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı, members of the Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP), were arrested.

Free Women’s Congress (KJA) spokesperson Ayla Akat Ata was detained at a protest calling for Kışanak and Anlı's release and is now facing terrorism charges alongside them.

Diyarbakır, the largest city in Bakur (Turkish Kurdistan), was put under administration by the government with appointed trustees replacing elected co-mayors. Numerous city officials have been arrested. The Erdoğan government had previously placed 27 DBP-led municipalities under administration.

At least 2500 members of the DBP have been jailed in the past year.

On November 4 arrest warrants were issued for all 59 Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) MPs by the Diyarbakir Chief Prosecutor's Office.

Thirteen HDP deputies including party leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ were immediately detained.

Police raided the homes of MPs and the HDP Headquarters in Ankara. Libertarian Lawyers' Association (ÖHD) Co-President Alişan Şahin was seriously injured during the raid on the HDP headquarters. 

After these arrests DBP Co-chair Sebahat Tunce told a press conference in Diyarbakır: “Today is the day for everyone to take to the streets. All must come together around HDP. If not now, when? Today is the day to resist. Today is the day to protect our future. We will be in resistance everywhere we are against the coup. Nobody should fool themselves, we will never give up on the struggle for democracy and freedom.”

She then joined protests outside the Diyarbakır Court House where she was arrested shouting, “We will not bow to fascism!”

Arrests of other HDP parliamentarians continue. On November 4, HDP parliamentarian and foreign affairs spokesperson Hişyar Özsoy released the following statement: “Last night the purge of President Erdoğan against our party has reached another peak: our Co-Chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, along with 11 further Members of Parliament of our party have been detained across Turkey last night. More arrests are to be expected. The goal of these measures is to shut down the third largest party in parliament. This is a dark day not only for our party but for all of Turkey and the region as it means the end of democracy in Turkey.

Ever since our party reached a historic victory during the national elections of June 7, 2015 where we succeeded to enter parliament despite the undemocratic 10% threshold, President Erdoğan has singled out our party as the main target of his authoritarian policies. The reason is our principled opposition against his goal to introduce a presidential system in Turkey. Our seats in parliament are the biggest obstacles to the necessary constitutional changes. Thus, he simply ordered new elections in November 2015. Despite a series of violent assaults by “unknown perpetrators” on our party members and infrastructure, we managed once again to surpass the threshold on November 5, 2015 and won 59 seats in Parliament. Since he could not re-order elections another time, President Erdoğan initiated the lifting of the immunity of our MPs in May 2016. As he could not prevent us from entering Parliament, he now orders us into prison.

Thousands of members, executives, elected mayors and city council members affiliated with the HDP and/or our sister party DBP have already been sent to prison on groundless charges since our electoral victory in June 2015. Yet the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency has been the welcome opportunity for President Erdoğan to eliminate all opposition. There is no freedom of expression and no freedom of press, no academic freedom, and no fair and independent judicial system any more. With government decrees gaining the power of law, over 170 media outlets critical of Erdoğan have been banned. More than 130 journalists are in prison, including world-renowned authors and intellectuals. Most recently, two Kurdish news agencies and several Kurdish dailies were closed down and the chief-editor, columnists and journalists of the daily Cumhuriyet have been detained. More than 80,000 people have been detained since July 15, and about half of them are in prison now.

On November 30, Ms. Gülten Kışanak and Mr. Fırat Anlı, elected co-mayors of Diyarbakir from our party, were arrested and sent to prison. A district governor from Ankara was appointed to run the municipality. With this, the number of Kurdish municipalities run by bureaucrats appointed by the central government increased to 28. About 30 democratically elected Kurdish mayors are now in prison, and about 70 of them were dismissed by the central government.

We strongly condemn the detainment of our Co-Chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, as well our Members of Parliament … and demand their immediate release. The manufactured charges against them and all other party members must be dropped.

History has shown over and over again that any power based on brute force is outlived by the struggle for justice and freedom. We will not surrender to these dictatorial policies and call upon our friends around the world to stand in solidarity in our struggle to prevent Erdoğan to steer the country into a civil war and further despotism.”

Social media has been blocked in Turkey since soon after the detention of the HDP deputies.

Previously, the entire internet was shut down in Bakur for six days. Its restoration was accompanied by the closure of 15 media outlets on October 29.

One of these, Jinha Women’s News (JINHA), said the following day: “JINHA, which has been shut down … under the state of emergency, was launched without thinking 'what men will say' as its slogan declared. Now, it will continue without thinking 'what men decree.'”

Since the attempted coup on July 15, 170 media outlets have been shut down, hundreds of journalists arrested and hundreds of others have had their accreditation removed.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 135th Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland on 23-27 October, condemned the crackdown. The crackdown on the media has been condemned by Reporters Without Borders.

On October 29, legendary Palestinian freedom fighter, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Politburo member Leila Khaled made the following statement in solidarity Gültan Kışanak:

“To put women in prisons for being activists in their struggle for their people’s freedom creates anger and denunciation for all progressive forces all over the globe. I, Leila Khaled, condemn the detention of our comrade Gültan and her colleague, call upon all women to support the release of Gültan and all political prisoners in Turkish prisons. We, as Palestinians, feel the sufferings of prisoners especially in Israeli prisons as well as prisoners in Turkish ones.

“When the oppressors cannot stop people struggling for their freedom they use their viscous authorities by detaining activists. I, here, call for popular actions to support the comrades in prisons and to raise voices against the policy of detention. In the name of my people in Palestine and in diaspora we call the Turkish government to release our comrade Gültan and all prisoners from Turkish prisons. Our struggle will continue for the freedom of our peoples. Together we can achieve victory against our oppressors. Long live people's freedom struggle.”

Video of Figen Yüksekdağ’s arrest (from Firat News Agency):

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