ISTANBUL – The crackdown on deputies, mayors, councilors and local officials of a pro-Kurdish party left Turkey’s political environment damaged, Human Rights Watch denounced on Monday.
This comes ahead of a crucial constitutional referendum, scheduled for April 16, which proposes allocating more powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“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,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said in a statement released on Monday to the press.
“The fact that the curbs come during a vital national debate about the country’s future is doubly disturbing,” he added.
Since last November, the courts have sent 13 deputies from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the third-party bloc on the parliament, including co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdag, on charges of propaganda for terrorism.
In addition, the government has dismissed the co-mayors of 82 municipalities in the Kurdish regions, south-east of the country, jailed 90 of them, and appointed managers for these regions.
Since the failed coup in July 2016, the courts have sent 1,482 local HDP officials to pre-trial detention, while about 3,500 officials from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the name under which this party participated in local elections 2014 and which is still used in the Kurdish regions, are awaiting trial in prison.
On April 16, Turkey will vote in a referendum on a constitutional reform promoted by Erdogan and backed by the AKP Islamist party, in government since 2002, which plans to transfer all executive power to the head of the state.
The HDP, like the Social Democratic Party CHP, the largest opposition party, opposes this reform, which it considers a step towards a worrying concentration of power.