Turkey's Constitutional Court is currently in the process of deciding whether to close the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which has 56 Members of Parliament, many of whom are already incarcerated.
If closed, the HDP will be the eighth pro-Kurdish party in Turkey to be removed from the legislative process.
Former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton strongly recommends that if President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or his AKP Party corrupt the electoral process in the upcoming elections -- on the heels of other malign actions -- Turkey should be removed from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), based on "the international law principle of rebus sic stantibus – 'as things now stand'... Mr. Erdogan hasn't been behaving like an ally."
On January 5, Turkey's Constitutional Court signaled the upcoming closure of the party. The court temporarily blocked the transfer of aid money from the Treasury that was due to the HDP. The prosecutor had submitted the request and alleged that the HDP's "organic ties" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) had continued during the closure case of the HDP, filed in 2021. This verdict came just days before the funds were due to be wired to the party's bank account.
Turkey's national elections are scheduled for June 18, 2023. The HDP's co-spokespersons for foreign affairs issued a statement, calling blocking of the party's funds "unlawful":
"We have been facing a closure case since June 2021, and this will most probably be finalized in the coming months, before the elections...
"It is obvious that the Constitutional Court's decision to block our party funds is political. The MHP, President Erdoğan's ultranationalist ally, has been aiming at this for a long time. It seems that the court has surrendered to political pressure and has become a tool for directing politics in the run-up to the elections.
"This court decision is another black mark in Turkey's history of democracy. It doesn't have any legitimacy and is null and void in the conscience of our millions of supporters as we prepare for our decisive political battle with Erdoğan's authoritarian regime."
The Kurdish political movement in Turkey has for years been under severe governmental pressure. Since 2015, HDP members and activists have been constantly subjected to detention and arrest. Many HDP Members of Parliament, including the Party's co-heads Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, were jailed after their immunity was lifted. Democratically elected Kurdish mayors, deputy mayors, municipal council- and staff-members of the HDP and its sister party, DBP (Democratic Regions Party), have also been suspended, dismissed or arrested for alleged terrorism-related offenses. They were then replaced by government-appointed trustees.
The Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) documented that in 2016, trustees were appointed to 94 municipalities governed by the DBP, and 93 Kurdish co-mayors were arrested.
According to the IHD, the number of arrested Kurdish politicians and staff of both the HDP and DBP are estimated at more than 10,000.
The arbitrary arrest of Kurds in Turkey has been the norm for decades, but after the failed coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and started legislating through emergency decrees. The duration of the emergency was extended four times and the government drastically accelerated its arrest operations -- often targeting Kurds and other dissidents. The dismissals and arrests of Kurds are based on Turkey's Anti-Terror Law, not on accusations of involvement in the attempted coup.
In 2020, members of the HDP's Central Executive Committee were detained. In February 2021, a lawsuit was filed by the Chief Prosecutor's Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals, seeking to close the HDP. The Constitutional Court did not accept the first indictment, after which a lawsuit was filed, along with a second indictment in June 2021.
In the local elections of March 2019, the HDP won 65 municipalities. However, trustees were appointed to almost all of them by the ruling government (except for a couple of small towns).
In 2016, a report by the European Commission for Democracy Through Law ("The Venice Commission"), an advisory body of the Council of Europe, concluded:
"... the Government interpreted its extraordinary powers too extensively and took measures that went beyond what is permitted by the Turkish Constitution and by international law."
Turkey is a party to the European Charter of Local Self-Government (ECLSG). In the 2017 report from the Venice Commission, the trustee practice was once again criticized, and Turkey was called on to comply with international obligations, particularly in the framework of the ECLSG. The government of Turkey has, nonetheless, maintained its unelected trustees in charge of majority-Kurdish cities.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (CLRACE) in 2017 carried out a fact-finding mission with local elected Turkish representatives. In their report, they wrote:
"The Congress... observes that most of the arrests of local elected representatives have been made on the basis of accusations of terrorism, the definition of which has been criticized by Council of Europe bodies, the European Union and other international organizations, and is not in conformity with the practice of most Council of Europe member States;
"... notes that the use of the Turkish Anti-Terror Law No. 3713 of 12 April 1991, principally with regard to declarations and opinions expressed, is having a negative impact on political pluralism and the practical exercise of local democracy in Turkey."
"Turkey has been employing counter-terrorism and national security legislation to restrict rights and freedoms and silence the voices of human rights defenders... In the last three months of 2021 alone, no less than 1,220 human rights defenders suffered judicial harassment or reprisals....
"Since 2016, Turkey has been governed by a State of Emergency regime. Although officially abolished on 19 July 2018, this regime was in fact made permanent via a raft of regulations. Key to the government's strategy is Anti-Terrorism Law No. 3713, which is used to fully restrict rights and freedoms and silence the voices of human rights defenders. The excessively vague and broad definition of terrorism in the law allows to label peaceful human rights defenders as 'terrorist offenders'.
"This has resulted in increasing numbers of investigations and prosecutions. Official data show that in 2020, 6551 people were prosecuted under the anti-terrorism law, while a staggering 208,833 were investigated for 'membership in an armed organization', including thousands of human rights defenders."
According to a report authored by the Council of Europe and the University of Lausanne, Turkey has the largest population of inmates convicted for terrorism-related offenses. The report, updated in April 2021, shows that at the time there were a total of 30,524 inmates in COE member states who were sentenced for terrorism; of those, 29,827 were in Turkish prisons.
According to a 2021 report by the Arrested Lawyers Initiative, entitled "Abuse of the Anti-Terrorism Provision by Turkey is steadily increasing (2013-2020)":
"The problem is that the Turkish Penal Code contains neither the definition of what constitutes armed organizations and armed groups nor the offense of membership. The lack of legal definitions and criteria of what constitutes an armed terrorist organization and the offense of membership in the armed terrorist organization makes these articles prone to arbitrary application and abuse. Vague formulation of the criminal provisions on the security of the state and terrorism and their overly broad interpretation by Turkish judges and prosecutors make all critics, particularly lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists, and rival politicians, a potential victim of judicial harassment. This indistinct area under the Turkish Penal code is actively used by the Turkish government to investigate, prosecute and convict opponents."
The IHD (Turkish Human Rights Association) also noted that there are serious violations of rights in Turkey's prisons. Turkey, however, has not followed the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) or the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
In Turkey, "the rule of law has been virtually destroyed," the IHD concludes.
Meghan Bodette, Director of Research at the Kurdish Peace Institute, told Gatestone:
"Banning the HDP will further disenfranchise the millions of Kurds in Turkey who demand equal civil, political and cultural rights for their community. Since abandoning peace talks with the Kurdish movement in 2015, Erdogan has already deprived millions of HDP voters of the democratically elected representation to which they are entitled under domestic and international law by removing and imprisoning elected mayors and MPs and seizing control of municipalities. Although the pro-Kurdish political movement and its supporters have a strong tradition of regrouping and recovering from bans, mass arrests, and other policies of political persecution, shutting Kurds out of politics at this crucial time may fuel conflict, as they will be deprived of peaceful avenues through which to demand their rights."
Through the closure of the HDP, Erdogan's state authorities show that they are once again willing and able to overturn election results. In a 2022 report, the Kurdish Peace Institute documented how since 2015, Erdogan's government has ended electoral democracy in majority-Kurdish regions, leaving more than 75% of voters who supported pro-Kurdish mayors without their elected representatives.
The Kurdish political movement, however, is no stranger to persecution. Journalist Mahmut Bozarslan notes that "From 1990 to 2009, Turkish courts closed seven pro-Kurdish political parties; two other Kurdish parties dissolved themselves."
The HDP is a legal political party with millions of supporters in Turkey, and is dedicated to a peaceful, non-violent resolution of the Kurdish issue. An election that bans the HDP from participation will be an illegitimate one and will be a declaration of death for whatever crumbs are left of so-called Turkish "democracy."
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute. She is also a research fellow for the Philos Project.