A top Turkish prosecutor has filed a case with the constitutional court demanding the closure of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) party in the culmination of a years-long clampdown on Parliament’s third-largest party – a move the US said is “troubling”.
The move on Wednesday came as Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a prominent HDP legislator, was convicted over a 2016 social media post the courts deemed “terrorist propaganda”.
An appeals court decision confirming the conviction was read in Parliament, leading to his automatic expulsion from the house. Gergerlioglu protested the move and refused to leave.
In a statement, the US State Department warned that if successful, the dissolution of HDP would “further undermine democracy”.
Bekir Sahin, chief public prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, accused HDP leaders and members of “acting in a way that flouts the democratic and universal rules of law, colluding with the terrorist PKK and affiliated groups, and aiming to destroy and eliminate the indivisible integrity of the state”, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
The HDP, which has 55 seats in the 600-member parliament, denies any links to the Kurdish fighters.
The high court needs to approve the indictment before the case against the HDP can begin.
‘Not going anywhere’
Several of HDP’s predecessor parties were closed down over the decades for alleged links to Kurdish fighters but were soon re-established under different names.
The HDP said Gergerlioglu was punished for sharing on Twitter the link to a news story that included comments from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has waged a decades-long armed uprising in Turkey.
Pressure on the HDP has grown since Turkey said 13 captives – including Turkish military and police personnel – were killed by PKK fighters in Iraq during a failed Turkish military operation to rescue them last month.
An outspoken critic of the human rights record of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, Gergerlioglu said the trial against him was politically motivated and aimed to silence him.
He said he was unjustly stripped of his seat before the Constitutional Court reviewed his case, and promised not to leave Parliament until the high court issues its decision.
The move to expel Gergerlioglu triggered a raucous protest in the assembly hall, with HDP legislators banging on desks and accusing Erdogan’s governing party of an assault on democracy.
“I came here with the 90,000 votes of the people of [the northwestern province of] Kocaeli,” Gergeroglu said, addressing journalists watching the proceeding. “I am my party’s legislator and I am not going anywhere.”
HDP legislators remained in the assembly hall in a show of solidarity.
‘Deep disdain for democratic norms’
The government accuses the HDP – the third-largest party in Turkey’s parliament – of links to the outlawed PKK.
Dozens of HDP legislators and mayors – including former co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, as well as thousands of members – have been arrested in a crackdown on the party.
Two other HDP legislators similarly lost their seats in June.
Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said on Wednesday any move to strip Gergerlioglu of his seat “would look like a reprisal by the Erdogan government for his brave and vocal stance in support of thousands of victims of human rights violations”.
“Gergerlioglu’s conviction is a blatant violation of his right to free speech and using it as a pretext to expel him from parliament would show deep disdain for democratic norms and the right to political association,” he said.
The move against Gergerlioglu, a one-time Erdogan supporter who joined the HDP out of disillusionment, came weeks after Turkey’s president pledged a series of human rights reforms.
Gergerlioglu, the former head of a human rights association, has exposed several rights violations in Turkey, including alleged illegal strip-searches of detainees by police.
He was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to two years and six months in prison for “spreading terrorist propaganda” after he retweeted a news article about a call for peace with the PKK, and commented that its jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, should be involved.
Last month, an appeals court confirmed his conviction.
The PKK is considered a “terrorist organisation” in Turkey, Europe and the United States.
The PKK has fought an armed uprising against the state in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.