HRW urges Turkey to release Kurdish politicians

HDP-rally_0.jpg

Supporter of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). File photo/AP

ARA News

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday called on Turkey to stop the crackdown on democratically elected Kurdish officials ahead of Turkish presidential referendum planned for 16 April 2017.

The Turkish government has jailed 13 members of the pro-Kurdish democratic opposition in parliament on terrorism charges and taken direct control of 82 municipalities in the Kurdish southeast region, suspending and incarcerating elected mayors, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The crackdown on democratically elected officials not only violates their rights to political association and participation, and freedom of expression, but also interferes with the rights of constituents who voted for them and whom they serve in office,” the HRW said.

The move against the national pro-Kurdish party, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and its regional sister party, Democratic Regions Party (DBP), comes in the lead up to an April 16, 2017 constitutional referendum on an amendment that would transform Turkey from its traditional parliamentary political system to a presidential one, leading to a concentration of power in the office of the president.

The proposal has been widely criticized for lacking adequate checks and balances to protect human rights and rule of law against misuse of power by the office of the president. Both parties oppose such an expansion of presidential powers.

“It’s deeply damaging to Turkey’s democracy that the government is locking up the leaders and MPs of an opposition party that received five million votes in the last election,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, “The fact that the curbs come during a vital national debate about the country’s future is doubly disturbing.”

Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, the co-leaders of HDP, and 11 of its other parliament members are in jail facing terrorism charges. Yüksekdağ was stripped of her seat in February and subsequently of her party membership after an earlier terrorism propaganda conviction was upheld.

In Turkey’s southeast, the government has taken control of 82 municipalities won by the DBP and suspended their democratically elected co-mayors under suspicion of terrorism offenses, with 90 of them jailed pending trial.

The jailing of the parliament members is possible because of a temporary constitutional change, approved by parliament in May 2016, that lifted the parliamentary immunity of 154 members under investigation at that time for criminal offenses – 55 are HDP members. The change does not apply to members investigated after the May vote was taken, who retain their immunity as long as they stay in office.

The one-time removal of immunity has been criticized by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, which advises on constitutional matters, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

“The government’s crackdown on pro-Kurdish parties is robbing millions of voters of their parliamentary representatives, and in a vast swathe of the eastern and southeastern parts of the country it is robbing voters of their local representatives as well,” Williamson said.

Turkey has come under increased scrutiny of human rights organizations for its human rights violations against Kurds. In March, the U.N. accused Turkey of killing hundreds of Kurds during operations against Kurdish rebels in the southeast of Turkey.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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