Turkey detains Kurdish leaders of opposition parties in raids

Published November 4th, 2016 - 10:00 GMT
Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) was detained along with 11 other legislators. (AFP/File)
Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) was detained along with 11 other legislators. (AFP/File)

Turkey has detained the co-chairs of the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, the government confirmed early Friday.

The state-run Anadolu news agency carried an Interior Ministry statement saying 11 legislators from the party, the third largest in parliament, had been detained in a series of raids. Warrants were issued for four other members of parliament.

Demirtas was detained at his home in Diyarbakir while Yuksekdag was taken into custody at her house in the capital Ankara. Demirtas' last post on Twitter said security forces "are at my door."

Live videos of the police raids, carried out in the middle of the night, were posted on social media accounts, including one showing Yuksekdag verbally protesting against her detention.

Access to social media like Twitter and messaging service WhatsApp was jammed, with users saying they were using VPNs to bypass the blocks.

There were also reports of problems using mobile internet though fixed lines were still working.

Such internet disruptions during security operations are common in Turkey, where tens of thousands of websites are permanently blocked.

The HDP quoted Demirtas, through his lawyer, as saying: "I am in good health, my morale is fine, I salute our people."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been accused of increasing authoritarianism, regularly targets the HDP, saying it has links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a charge the HDP denies.

The HDP sees the moves against it as politically motivated and says that since July 2015 more than 5,000 people affiliated with it have been detained and more than 1,000 have been formally arrested, on varying charges, including terrorism-related.

Earlier this year, 55 of the HDP's 59 legislators had their immunity from prosecution removed by a parliamentary measure put forward by Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Demirtas and Yuksekdag are accused by prosecutors in separate cases of spreading terrorist propoganda. A government statement said the detentions came after the HDP leaders refused to appear before prosecutors to testify.

Turkey has recently removed a number of elected HDP mayors from office and replaced them with trusted Ankara loyalists, with no announcement of plans for fresh elections.

The mayors of the city of Diyarbakir - the HDP fills each post with a man and a woman - were arrested last week.

A peace process between the PKK and the state broke down last year leading to renewed violence which has claimed thousands of lives, adding to the more than 40,000 people who had already died in the 30-year war. The government has rejected a return to negotiations.

Those detained in the late night raids included HDP leaders who were involved in the peace process.

"The arrest order for senior HDP leadership is the last nail in the coffin for any hope of peace for years to come," tweeted Howard Eissenstat, an expert on Turkey at St Lawrence University in New York.

A statement from a local HDP-sister party in the mostly Kurdish south-east of the country called for people to protest the detentions, the Firat news agency reported.

The raids are "a coup against the will of the people that can never be accepted," the statement said.

Since a July coup attempt by a faction in the military, Turkey has conducted sweeping crackdowns, saying it is targeting alleged followers of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based preacher accused of orchestrating the failed putsch. He denies the charges.

A state of emergency is in effect, giving the government sweeping powers to rule by decree and restricting civil rights, including detainees' access to lawyers in the first five days after being taken into custody.

Some 35,000 people have been arrested since the coup and tens of thousands of civil servants and members of the security forces have been dismissed from their jobs.

The HDP has also increasingly been targeted in recent months, as have opposition media outlets, including Kurdish television and radio channels and news networks.

This week, police detained at least 11 journalists from Cumhuriyet newspaper, a centre-left daily that was established in 1924 and won this year's Right Livelihood Award, known as the alternative Nobel Prize.

More than 100 journalists have been jailed in Turkey and more than 165 outlets have been shut this year.

Turkey's vague anti-terrorism laws, often broadly applied, have been criticized by European leaders and the UN.

By Shabtai Gold

© 2022 dpa GmbH

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