After repeatedly accusing its members of being “supported by a terrorist organization” and “backing suicide bombers,” the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has finally arrested the senior leadership of the Kurd-friendly People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in a midnight raid.
Police whisked party leaders Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş away from their homes in the capital, Ankara, and Kurdish regional capital Diyarbakir in the middle of the night, as well as detaining Diyarbakır deputy Nursel Aydoğan and Şırnak deputy Leyla Birlik, among others, for their ties to the party. Prosecutors are now working to turn the detentions into permanent arrests, requiring a trial. Reuters places the number of HDP legislators detained in the past 24 hours at “a dozen.”
Dramatic mobile phone footage of the arrests has surfaced online. In the first video, authorities appear to prevent the filming of Demirtaş’s arrest. In the second, legislator İdris Baluken is heard shouting to police in Turkish, “Get your hands off me! I represent thousands of votes. You can’t shove my head and take me like that.”
The public arrest of an opposition leader like Demirtaş strongly resembles another arrest of a charismatic center-left leader on vague “terrorism” charges: the arrest of Popular Will opposition party leader Leopoldo López in Venezuela in 2014. López remains in prison, his health status unknown.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency claims that Yüksekdağ and Demirtaş were arrested “for failing to appear in response to a summons” involving the terrorist activities of the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group. They are being held under “anti-terrorism laws,” the agency adds.
“As known, those who refuse to respond to summons by prosecutors asking for their testimony in probes and hence break the laws are taken into custody so as to take their testimony. The constitutional amendment on lifting the parliamentary immunity of parliament members passed with 376 votes at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in May without a need to hold a referendum,” the government aid in a statement.
“[The prosecutor] summons and they did not go; what other solution is left? The only means left is to summon them by force,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said of the raids on Friday, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.
The arrests follow similar detentions last week in which the co-mayors of Diyarbakir, Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı, were arrested “as part of an anti-terrorism probe.” Both are members of a regional pro-Turkish party, the Democratic Regions’ Party (DBP).
The Erdogan regime’s use of law enforcement action to curb the HDP comes as little surprise following their rapid rise to power as a pro-Kurdish, pro-Christian, anti-Islamist alternative to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). In addition to calling for more involvement of women and minorities in government, HDP leaders have acknowledged the reality of the Armenian Genocide, a move the Turkish government has never officially made. Erdogan has repeatedly accused the HDP of supporting PKK terrorism and backed a motion to strip legislators of immunity. That law passed in May after multiple brawls among lawmakers on the parliament floor.
“Motions [to remove immunity of HDP deputies] should not be let to rot on the shelves of the Parliament. The necessary action must be taken,” Erdogan said in May. “Nowhere in the world can you see a politician backing a suicide bomber,” he added, referring to the HDP in particular. Erdogan also accused the HDP of being an American invention intended to subvert his government, pointing the finger at President Barack Obama directly.
Erdogan’s antagonism towards the HDP has led to hundreds of violent attacks on their offices throughout the country.
Demirtaş has also accused Erdogan of supporting terrorists — not the Marxist PKK, but the Islamic State and other jihadist threats. He has referred to Erdogan specifically as “an extension of ISIS” and demanded Islam take a smaller role in the management of the nation.