The co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, Turkey’s third biggest party, were detained last night in a midnight raid.
The Turkish government has escalated judicial investigation against the HDP, restricting social media and messaging services, and expanding its crackdown against media publications.
Selahattin Demirtaş and co-leader Figen Yüksekdağ were detained in their homes in Diyarbakir, alongside parliamentary group leader İdris Baluken and at least 10 other MP’s according to a Ministry of Interior statement. The list of names covers almost all the HDP leadership, in the biggest operation against a political party in recent history.
The HDP have been under pressure since parliamentary immunities were removed in May, which critics argued was a blatant move against Kurdish representation in parliament. Of the existing 667 cases filed against MPs, 405 can be used against the HDP and its members. With the revocation of parliamentary immunity in May, the ruling AKP government has seemingly opened the way to consolidate its power at the expense of the HDP.
Police also raided HDP headquarters in Ankara. Demirtaş alongside a number of high profile politicians have already been in court today and face arrest. Diyarbakir MP İdris Baluken has already been arrested.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Ali Şeker told İleri Haber, “This is a provocation for Turkey to be dragged into a spiral of violence. They are in an effort to force a party that gained 6 million votes out of the parliament. It is not possible to accept this for the sake of democracy”.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has defended the government’s early-morning detentions and raids, criticizing HDP lawmakers for not testifying earlier, “[The prosecutor] summons and they did not go; what other solution is left?” Bozdağ said in response to the arrests. “The only means left is to summon them by force.”
PKK car bomb follows arrest of HDP leaders
A PKK car bomb rocked the city just hours after the lawmakers were detained. The bombing occurred outside a the Counter-Terror and Riot Police Branch in Bağlar district, the police station in Diyarbakir where many of the detainees were being held. Eight people were killed in the attack, including two police officers, with over 100 injured. The bombing was reportedly followed by clashes between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and police forces according to Daily Sabah, a pro-government media outlet. Many fear further attacks will follow as the political situation deteriorates.
The state-run Anadolu Agency said that the HDP parliamentarians have been detained as part of an ongoing counter-terrorism investigation, and for failing to give testimonies on crimes of terrorism propaganda following Demirtaş and fellow MPs statements in support of regional self-governance and autonomy.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) views the HDP as having a direct link to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., Turkey and the EU.
Media blackout continues
Meanwhile, an internet blackout continues throughout the country. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Whatsapp and Instagram are all down, likely through the use of ‘throttling’ which restricts or blocks access even through VPN software by slowing down the internet connection.
This is believed to be related to last night’s raid on the HDP. Similarly, the raid occurred at midnight, meaning that none of the Turkish dailies have covered the detentions, limiting the spread of news as a damage control strategy. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım put out a statement saying that “Everything will return to normal after the threat is parried”, in a rare admission of state control over internet services.
In an online video statement shared on Twitter through Periscope, HDP spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen said access to the party headquarters in Ankara was blocked and journalists could not attend a press conference. There were also reports of jammed cell phone service and police barricades around the Ankara office.
The Kurdish conflict has spiralled out of control since the June elections last year, after the HDP broke the ruling party’s majority for the first time since their accession to power in 2002. With the resulting PKK attacks and ensuing snap elections in November, hopes for a democratic solution became untenable.
Given the finality of these mass detentions, and existing arrest warrants issued for 50 out of the HDP’s 59 MPs, the future is looking both bleak and violent, feeding fuel to this decades-old conflict.
According to the HDP’s Facebook page, Selahattin Demirtaş’s lawyer Mehmet Emin Aktar met with him in detention. Demirtaş made a statement, saying: “I am in good health. I salute our people”. Demirtaş refused to answer questions in court today, saying that he did not want to be “an extra in a judicial theatrical play.” Mr. Demirtaş alone faces 102 lawsuits, estimated by his lawyers to amount to over 500 years of detention if convicted.
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union has stated on Twitter that she is “extremely worried” by the arrests, and has called an EU ambassadors meeting in Ankara.
Emma Sinclair Web, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch, said that the raids were “another outrageous step in the draconian crackdown that the Turkish government has been pursing over the past four months.” She further condemned the move as “an assault on the right to political representation and participation for millions of voters and defies fundamental principles of any country that claims to be democratic.”
Parliament shaken up at a critical time
The detentions and their timing even provoked criticism within the AKP itself. MP Mehmet Ali Şahin, once a leading figure and a founding member of the party, argued the changes that resulting from a redistribution of parliamentary seats if the detainees are arrested would cause problems at a time when critical decisions lie ahead.
“Until the allegations about them turn into cases and are finalized, I am of the opinion that it would be more appropriate for arrest decisions not to be made,” he said.
“The MPs’ in question should be questioned but I think the parliamentary arithmetic should not be displaced because of the arrests,” Şahin added.
Turkey’s most pressing political question at the moment is the possible transition to a presidential system, backed by President Erdoğan and the AKP. The CHP and HDP leaders oppose such a move, while the MHP’s leader, Devlet Bahçeli, has come out in favour.
There are planned solidarity protests throughout European cities today and tonight. Protests have spread across Turkey’s south east following the arrest of Diyarbakir’s co-mayors Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı last week on the grounds of alleged links to the PKK. Yesterday’s detention of HDP co-chairs will no-doubt further serve to fan these flames throughout the country, and protests have already erupted in Diyarbakir, Izmir, Istanbul and Ankara, followed by dozens of arrests.
These steps by the government can then be seen as part of a larger pattern. In previous weeks, the government has detained lower ranking HDP members, such as the mayors of Diyabakir. Coordinated with restricted internet usage in the south east, cut off for as many as 10 days at a time, opposition protests were limited and quickly pushed back by riot police and vehicles armed with water cannons.