Supporters of pro-Kurdish HDP shout slogans during a protest against arrests of its members in September 2020. (Photo Credit Reuters/Murad Sezer)
The wave of arrests of politicians, journalists, lawyers, and activists affiliated with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) intensified last week, ahead of Turkiye’s 14 May presidential and parliamentary elections.
The HDP is fielding its candidates under the newly established Green Left Party as the former is facing closure by the Turkish constitutional court.
The supreme court is expected to either ban the HDP or bar up to 550 of its top members from politics for five years.
The Turkish government claims the HDP has links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state to achieve greater Kurdish autonomy and cultural and political rights. Ankara views the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The HDP has announced its support for Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) for president, who is challenging Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the position he has held since 2014. Erdogan also served as prime minister from 2003 to 2014.
Polls show Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu in a virtual tie.
Turkish officials have accused the HDP of being the political wing of the PKK for years, and Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu also accused the new pro-Kurdish Green Left Party of being affiliated to the PKK last week as well.
The HDP has denied any links to the PKK but has said that the party respects the ideology of the group’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
Last week, Turkish police arrested at least 110 pro-Kurdish lawyers, journalists, activists, and politicians, including a senior official of the HDP, a parliamentary candidate of the Green Left Party in Istanbul for alleged links to the PKK.
Ayten Donmez, who is running on the ticket of the newly-established Green Left Party in Kocaeli province, was arrested in her house on charges that include “membership in a military terrorist group” and “breaking the law regarding prevention of financing terrorism,” according to the state-owned Anadolu Agency.
In September last year, HDP lawmaker Semra Guzel was arrested in Istanbul after going into hiding for months. The previous January, Turkish media published photographs of her with a PKK fighter dating from 2013 and accused her of being a member of the group.
The leftist HDP says it being singled out for standing up to Erdogan’s crackdown on civil liberties and mishandling of the economy and called last week’s raids an “operation to steal the ballot box and the will of the people.”
It accused Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of targeting “lawyers who will protect the ballot box and journalists who will inform the public” about government attempts to manipulate the upcoming vote.
The Turkish state has cracked down on the HDP in other instances in recent years. Turkish police arrested 36 members of the HDP for ties to the PKK in June 2022 in simultaneous early morning raids in 10 provinces.
In April 2022, Turkish authorities detained 46 HDP members, accusing them of being a part of the PKK’s “economic structure,” of money-laundering, and of taking instructions from PKK commander Murat Karayilan.
A year before, in March 2021, a Turkish prosecutor first filed a case with the Constitutional Court to dissolve the HDP, the country’s second-largest opposition grouping in the parliament.
Both the EU and the United States condemned the move, with the US State Department warning that a ban on the HDP would “further undermine democracy in Turkiye.”