Turkey detains co-leaders of pro-Kurdish opposition party, continuing controversial crackdown

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 1:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 9:49pm

Turkey has detained the co-chairs of the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, the government confirmed early yesterday.

The state-run Anadolu news agency carried an Interior Ministry statement saying 11 legislators from the party, the third largest in parliament, were being sought and nine had been detained.

Demirtas was detained at his home Diyarbakir while Yuksekdag was taken into custody at her house in the capital Ankara. Demirtas’ last post on Twitter said the security services “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 arguing 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.

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

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the government regularly target the HDP and accuse it of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, charges the HDP denies.

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

Demirtas and Yuksekdag are accused by prosecutors in separate cases of spreading terrorist propaganda. 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 election.

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

The HDP sees the moves against it as politically motivated.

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.