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Kurdish politicians to appear in Turkish courts by force

Refusing arraignment for terrorism charges, members of Turkey's Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) will be taken to court by force if they do not stand trial. Diego Cupolo reports from Ankara.

In Turkey, nearly every politician with the leftist, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) is facing trial this fall. Of the party's 59 members of parliament, 54 have been charged with alleged links to terrorist organizations.

One of them is Ayse Acar Basaran, an MP representing the southeastern city of Batman, who is facing 14 court cases.

Her charges range from "spreading terrorist propaganda" for condemning the treatment of a captured female guerilla, whose dead body was stripped naked and left a city street, to "aiding a terrorist organization" for acting as a human shield with other protesters in an effort to stop a battle between Kurdish militants and state forces in one of her districts.

"When I reveal crimes or try to prevent crimes, they issue cases against me," Basaran told DW. "Apparently, massacres, torture, and war are okay in this country, but standing against them is wrong."

Following her party's policy, Basaran has refused to appear in court, claiming she is unlikely to face a fair trial and that traditional legal procedures have been sidestepped. But she may not have a choice. In recent weeks, Basaran has received three court orders stating she will be taken to trial by force if she refuses to attend voluntarily and will be issued an arrest warrant if she evades police.

Türkei Demonstranten stürmen die HDP Zentrale in Ankara (picture alliance/ZUMA Press)

Nationalists have been targeting the Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party

Similar notifications are being sent out to other HDP members facing arraignment. If found guilty, the MPs could be stripped of their positions and imprisoned, threatening the viability of the nation's third-largest opposition party.

Lifting legal immunities

The prosecution of politicians is not commonplace in Turkey. Normally, elected officials are shielded from legal proceedings until they finish their terms. Yet if a crime is deemed extraordinary, the Turkish parliament and Supreme Court can choose to lift legal immunities on specific individuals.

This is what happened on May 20, 2016, when the Turkish parliament voted to lift such immunities after initial discussions led to fist fights between the various political groups. The move paved the way for legal proceedings against nearly 150 MPs, with the first cases due to begin in October.

While the HDP has the highest percentage of indicted members, the second-largest opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), has 51 of its 133 members facing trial, while the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has 10 of 40 members implicated. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will have 27 of 317 MPs arraigned.

All indictments are based on charges filed before the May 20 vote. Government officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Dissolving the opposition

During a recent interview in Diyarbakir, HDP co-chair Figen Yuksekdag said the lifting of immunities was presented as a "one-time" opportunity to cleanse the parliament by removing criminals from all parties, but she has always seen the vote as an operation to dissolve the HDP.

Türkei Figen Yuksekdag in Ankara (A. Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

Dozens of HDP politicians have been arrested on terrorism charges

"The AKP can't stand to share a parliament with us," Yuksekdag told DW. "Most cases are based on statements we made against the state in our speeches and revolve around questions of free speech," which Yuksekdag said have been less tolerated under Erdogan.

Like previous Kurdish-majority parties, the HDP has sustained repeated attempts to undermine its presence in the political arena.  After winning 80 seats in elections last June, taking away the AKP's majority vote in parliament, another election was called in November 2015.

The HDP received fewer votes in the second runoff, but still surpassed the 10-percent threshold required of political parties, despite the implementation of round-the-clock curfews and military operations in the Kurdish-majority southeast during the same time period.

Missteps on both sides

Still, the HDP is not without its own missteps. Party members sang the anthem of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the parliament building, and one MP attended funeral proceedings of a Kurdish suicide bomber who killed 28 members of Turkish security forces.

HDP members have acknowledged such mistakes, but still claim many cases filed against the party are based on false accusations.

A proceeding against Faysal Sariyildiz, an HDP MP representing Sirnak, states he used his car to transport weapons for guerillas. Speaking by phone from Belgium, Sariyildiz said a government investigation of his case found the evidence to be falsified, but he still faces trial for the indictment.

Sariyildiz believes he is being targeted for bringing to attention incidents where 85 civilians were fire-bombed while taking shelter in basements during military operations in Cizre this winter.

"If I had stayed in Turkey, I would be put in prison like many of my friends that have been trying to expose the crimes [of the state]," he told DW, saying employees at the Cizre morgue had been arbitrarily arrested for bearing witness to such incidents.

In total, HDP members face more than 400 court cases, with 93 directed at party co-chair Selahattin Demirtas alone.

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With her first court date set for Oct. 26, Batman MP Ayse Acar Basaran remains adamant, saying she will not testify willingly. Citing a recent government move to replace 24 HDP mayors with state-appointed trustees, Basaran said the state is now moving swiftly against the HDP.

"In Batman, they know very well that if they call elections 10 times, they'll lose 10 times," Basaran said. "They can't take us down with elections so they are using other methods."

 

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