Turkey moves to ban pro-Kurdish HDP party

Ankara (AFP) –

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Turkey's pro-Kurdish party was fighting for its political survival on Wednesday after a prosecutor asked the country's top court to shut it down for alleged links to militants waging a deadly insurgency against the state.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long portrayed the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) -- parliament's third-largest -- as the political front of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The PKK has been waging an insurgency since 1984 that has killed tens of thousands and is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.

But the HDP firmly denies formal links to the militants and says it is coming under attack because of its fervent opposition to Erdogan's 18-year rule.

Wednesday's request to ban the party came from a Supreme Court prosecutor who is investigating the HDP.

Prosecutor Bekir Sahin alleged that the HDP "was acting together with PKK terrorists and affiliated organisations, acting as an extension of such organisations".

He added that such activity threatened ""to destroy the indivisibility between the state and the people", the Anadolu state news agency reported.

- Sit-in protest -

The Constitutional Court could theoretically throw out the prosecutor's indictment and not put the HDP on trial.

But Western governments question the Turkish justice system's independence and accuse Erdogan of using the courts as a political bludgeon aimed at suppressing dissent.

The political and legal assault on the HDP intensified after a shaky truce between the militants and Erdogan's government broke down in 2015.

It grew even stronger after Erdogan survived a failed coup bid in 2016 that was followed by a political crackdown that saw tens of thousands jailed or stripped of their state jobs.

Those detained included two former HDP co-chairs who were jailed in 2016 and face decades in prison.

Most of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the predominantly Kurdish southeast in 2019 have been replaced by government-appointed trustees.

The Turkish prosecutor's request to ban the party was carried by state media while the party's lawmakers were staging a sit-in protest in parliament over the expulsion of one of their members.

Parliament had earlier Wednesday decided to strip MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his seat, and its accompanying immunity from prosecution, over a social media post.

The offending post featured an article in which the Kurdish militants urged the government to take a step toward peace.

Turkey's top appeals court last month upheld Gergerlioglu's 2018 conviction for "spreading terrorism propaganda" over a post he shared in 2016.

But Gergerlioglu refused to leave after the HDP's parliamentary faction began banging on desks and chanting protest slogans in the hollowed out chamber.

"We're not going to be silent, we're not scared, we're not going to submit," the MPs chanted as the standoff stretched into the evening hours.

- 'A shocking attack' -

The HDP's parliamentary group co-chair Meral Danis Bestas said Gergerlioglu had become the 14th party lawmakers to have been stripped of his immunity since 2016.

"You cannot do as you please with MPs elected by the people," her fellow co-chair Saruhan Oluc told reporters.

Gergerlioglu has long irritated Erdogan's government by shining a light on a variety of human rights violations that often go ignored by the mainstream Turkish media.

His advocacy for female detainees subjected to strip searches particularly angered the government last year.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that Gergerlioglu's offending posts never promoted violence and that he was stripped of his seat before the Constitutional Court had a chance to review his appeal.

HRW's Turkey director Emma Sinclair-Webb called it "a shocking attack on democratic norms and the rule of law, a violation of Turkey's constitution, laws and obligations under international law."