Turkish state moves to ban Peoples' Democratic Party

March 19, 2021

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) party has been under sustained attack by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) regime.

HDP local government and parliamentary elected representatives have been arrested and jailed, or stripped of their positions and replaced with pro-regime administrators. HDP members and sympathisers have been abducted and killed.

Now, the regime is moving to ban the party outright. In response, HDP’s foreign affairs co-spokespersons Feleknas Uca and Hişyar Özsoy issued the following statement on March 18.

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The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is under a ferocious attack by the AKP government, which was squeezed out of key cities in the local elections and faces immense economic problems exacerbated by the [COVID-19] pandemic.

On March 17, the final ruling against HDP parliamentarian Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu was read out at the plenary session of the parliament and he was stripped of his status as a deputy. A few hours later, it came out that the chief public prosecutor of the Court of Cassation had filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court to ban the HDP altogether.

These attacks against the HDP have come briefly after President Erdoğan declared a new Human Rights Action Plan, which was promoted as including reforms on law and human rights.

On March 2, Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation launched an inquiry into the HDP in relation to the indictment against nine HDP deputies over the “Kobane protests” that took place in October 2014 [against the attack by ISIS on the city of Kobane in the north-eastern region of Syria known as Rojava].

Two weeks later, the prosecutor stated in the indictment that the HDP, through the actions and statements of its members, had attempted “to destroy and eliminate the indivisible integrity of the Turkish state with its nation”.

It is important to note that both the inquiry and closure lawsuit came after repeated calls by Devlet Bahçeli, the chair of the government-allied Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), for Turkey’s high courts to ban the HDP.

In Turkey, the closure of political parties, especially pro-Kurdish parties, is not historically exceptional. Up to now, the Constitutional Court has banned six pro-Kurdish political parties.

The first, the People’s Labor Party (HEP), was established on June 7, 1990. The HEP joined the Social Democrat Party (SHP) for Turkey’s 1991 general elections and gained 22 seats in the Turkish Grand Assembly.

In July, 1993, the Constitutional Court banned the HEP. Following its closure, the Freedom and Democracy Party (OZDEP) was founded in May, 1993. On November 23, 1993, OZDEP was also banned. The Democracy Party (DEP) succeeded it.

In March, 1994, the Turkish parliament lifted the immunity of six DEP MPs and these MPs were later sentenced to 15 years in prison on “terror charges”. On June 16, 1994, the Constitutional Court banned the DEP.

The People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) was founded on May 11, 1994. In the local elections in 1999, HADEP won 37 municipalities across the Kurdish region, including seven major Kurdish cities. Yet, in March, 2003, the Turkish Constitutional Court banned HADEP, too.

On November 9, 2005, the Democratic Society Party (DTP) was founded. Its candidates ran independently in the 2007 general election and it gained 22 seats in the Turkish parliament. In the 2009 local elections, the DTP won mayorships in more than 100 cities and towns in the Kurdish region. Turkey’s Constitutional Court banned the party on December 11, 2009.

As can be seen, the HDP has inherited a history of harassment and closures, and although President Erdoğan had claimed several times in the past that he was opposed to the closure of political parties, his AKP has taken over Turkey’s repressive policy against the Kurds and other minorities. The HDP has already been under intense political pressure from the government. And now we are on the verge of another disgraceful attempt to eliminate a political party.

This latest phase of intense attack started with the Turkish government’s termination of the Kurdish peace process in 2015 and intensified under emergency rule in 2016, when our former co-chairs, Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, were arrested along with several other deputies.

(The case against Demirtaş was recently concluded by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. The chamber ruled for his immediate release — a ruling that the Turkish government has refused to execute so far.)

The attack has continued with the arrest of other deputies and the stripping of 11 HDP deputies of their parliamentary mandate. Since then, thousands of HDP administrators and members have faced detentions and arrests, and hardly a day passes without more being added to the list.

Local government representatives have also received their share of these attacks. In 2016, close to one hundred Kurdish municipalities were usurped and taken over by government-appointed officials, and many of the Kurdish co-mayors were arrested. The Turkish government continued with this colonial policy over Kurdish towns and cities after the local elections of 31 March, 2019.

So far, 48 out of 65 HDP-run municipalities have seen their elected mayors replaced by appointed trustees. Six other HDP co-mayors were denied their election certificates after they won their elections, with the excuse that they had previously been dismissed from their jobs by emergency rule decrees. As at today, 14 Kurdish co-mayors elected in March 2019, and several mayors elected in 2014, remain behind bars.

HDP is more than a few buildings and a formal political entity. We do represent diverse political histories and a powerful sociology of multiple struggles for recognition and justice. We assure you that the historical struggles and political traditions upon which the HDP was established in the first place will continue to deeply impact Turkish and Kurdish politics toward a genuine democratic transformation of the country, even if the HDP may not be able to survive this onslaught as a political entity.

The oppression of the government on the HDP and other democratic forces will surely intensify in the months ahead, and so will our struggle. We hereby invite once again the international democratic community to take a principled stance, further strengthen international solidarity, and act against these pitiful political moves by the AKP government to ban the HDP and deny the will of millions of people.

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