US says Turkish moves to close HDP undermine democracy

The U.S. State Department has said that Turkey's moves to close the HDP would "further undermine democracy" if successful. "We call on the Government of Turkey to respect freedom of expression," the statement read.

Duvar English - Reuters

A push by Turkish authorities to dissolve the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) party, if successful, would "further undermine democracy" in Turkey, the U.S. State Department said on March 17. 

"We are monitoring the initiation of efforts to dissolve the Peoples' Democratic Party, a decision that would unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters, further undermine democracy in Turkey, and deny millions of Turkish citizens their chosen representation," a statement released from the U.S. State Department read. 

The department also called the stripping of HDP deputy and human rights advocate Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu of his seat "troubling."

"The United States is closely following events in Turkey, including troubling moves on March 17 to strip Member of Parliament Ömer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his parliamentary seat," it said.

"We call on the Government of Turkey to respect freedom of expression in line with protections in the Turkish constitution and with Turkey’s international obligations," it added. 

A top Turkish prosecutor filed a case with the constitutional court on March 17 demanding the closure of the HDP, in the culmination of a years-long clampdown on parliament's third largest party.

Turkey has a long history of shutting down political parties which it regards as a threat and has in the past banned a series of other pro-Kurdish parties.

The HDP had recently come under intensified pressure, with nationalist allies of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) calling for it to be banned over alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

That has coincided with falling poll support for the AKP and its nationalist allies as Erdoğan's government battles the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Elections are not scheduled until 2023.

The HDP said prosecutors acted on political orders and accused the ruling AKP of shaping politics through the courts.

"The closure case launched against our party is a heavy blow to democracy and law," the HDP said in a statement, adding that its "determined struggle for democratic politics" would continue.

"[The HDP] move together with the PKK terrorist group and other linked organizations, they act as a branch of the organization with the aim of breaking the unity of the state," appeals court chief prosecutor Bekir Şahin said in a statement.

The HDP, which has 55 seats in the 600-member parliament, denies any links to the militants.

The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union. It has fought an insurgency against the state in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

'Reality check'

Earlier on March 17, the European Parliament Standing Rapporteur for Turkey Nacho Sánchez Amor and the Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee Sergey Lagodinsky issued a statement in reaction to Gergeroğlu's expulsion from parliament.

"His case is another crude example of the dire situation of freedom of speech in the country, the abuse of anti-terror measures to silence any critical voice and the particular crackdown on the opposition, especially the HDP, in an attempt to limit pluralism and political debate," the leading MEPs said in their statement.

They said the fact that the move against Gergerlioğlu came only two weeks after Erdoğan presented a new Human Rights Action Plan "is a painful 'reality check.'"

"Actions speak louder than words, and in this case, they speak particularly louder than any promise of legal reforms and any speech towards the EU full of good intentions," they said.

Another MEP, former Turkey rapporteur of the European Parliament Kati Piri, described the move against Gergerlioğlu as "illegal, immoral and a cowardly act."

Turkey says criticism of party closure case interferes in judiciary

Responding to international criticism, Turkey said on March 18 that the statements amounted to intervening in the Turkish judiciary and called for respect for an ongoing judicial process.

"Everyone must wait for the ruling the Constitutional Court will make in this process. Commenting on an ongoing judicial process amounts to intervention in the judiciary," Turkey's Foreign Ministry said.

A day earlier, Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettun Altun claimed that the links between the HDP and the PKK are "indisputable." 

"Whether that relationship warrants the HDP’s closure, or its subjecting to another punitive measure, is a question that the Constitutional Court alone can answer," Altun said.

"We urge all parties to respect Turkey’s independent judiciary and count on our legal system to deliver justice," he added.