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Leadership of Turkey’s #3 Party Arrested on Terrorism Charges

Purge continues; Party leaders rounded-up after missing court date

ISTANBUL – Most of the top members of Turkey’s third largest political party were taken into custody after midnight on Thursday night for failing to appear in court on terrorism-related charges.

“This is unlawful. This is not part of any legal process. This is a putsch against the HDP [Peoples’ Democratic Party],” HDP deputy and honorary president Ertuğrul Kürkçü told The Media Line as the raids were unfolding.

Twelve of the HDP’s 59 Members of Parliament were detained. Nine, including co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, were formally arrested, and three were conditionally released. Two additional MPs who are out of the country are being sought by authorities.

During the raids the government blocked or severely slowed down social media sites Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as the WhatsApp messenger service and 3G mobile Internet access across Turkey.

Kürkçü says there was no court order for the detentions, and that politically pressured prosecutors ordered them instead of a court.

“The government pushed the prosecutors to act,” he said. “It’s a scandal that prosecutors are staging an orchestrated operation in place of the courts themselves.”

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ says HDP MPs ignored subpoenas calling on them to testify in court.

“What other solution is left? The only means left is to summon them by force,” Bozdağ said at a press conference on November 4.

“Today’s arrests are no surprise for the HDP,” Mesut Yeğen, a sociologist at Istanbul Şehir University specializing in the Kurdish issue, told The Media Line.

He says it may be difficult for the party to make major decisions without its top lawmakers, but “the party will of course survive.”

European Parliament President Martin Schulz issued a statement condemning the arrests, calling Demirtaş “a leader committed to the peace process, to non-violence, to political dialogue and to the rule of law.”

In May, the Turkish Parliament voted to strip many parliamentarians, including most from the HDP, of their legal immunity.

The HDP and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been arch-rivals since the former achieved a major victory in the June 2015 elections, denying the authoritarian AKP the majority it needed to call a referendum for a new constitution creating an even stronger role for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

After those elections Turkey was wracked by major political violence, including the ending of a nearly 3-year ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) insurgent group. The government started a crackdown against the pro-Kurdish HDP, accusing them of supporting the PKK, which they deny.

After elements of the military attempted a coup on July 15, a state of emergency was announced and the government embarked on a massive purge of government critics, imprisoning or firing over 110,000 people, including HDP politicians and their supporters.

The co-mayors of Diyarbakır, Turkey’s largest Kurdish-majority city, were arrested on October 30. Demirtaş issued a strong statement in response, saying “Arrest is a legal term, but there is no law. This is abduction and kidnapping.”

“The arrests [of HDP MPs] unveil the strategic alliance between Erdoğan and [anti-HDP] ultranationalists, which started to emerge after the HDP victory in the June 2015 elections,” Mustafa Gürbüz, professor of Middle Eastern Studies at American University told the Media Line.

“The main beneficiary of the post-coup purges has been not only Erdogan loyalists but also Turkish ultranationalists who filled civil-military bureaucracy positions en masse.”

On Friday, protests in response to the HDP detentions were immediately shut down by security forces, as video emerged on Twitter of a police commander in Istanbul ordering his men to “shoot if needed.”

Professor Yeğen thinks people in the mostly Kurdish southeast are furious at the HDP detentions, but says they’ve been worn down and predicts that protests will be severely restricted by the state.

“The reaction from the Kurdish masses is sort of softer than it would have been if such a thing had taken place two years ago,” he said.

“They’re frustrated [and] exhausted, but on the other hand they still want to be on the streets, at least some of them, but now they aren’t allowed.”

Yeğen says many in the region are also sick of the PKK’s violence.

“The people are really frustrated with what the PKK has done over the past year and a half.”

Early Friday morning a car bomb in Diyarbakır, which the government blamed on the PKK but later claimed by the Islamic State, killed nine people and wounded over 100.