Turkey Moves to Prosecute Most Pro-Kurdish Party Lawmakers

Turkey moved closer to putting many of its leading Kurdish politicians on trial on Friday, as parliament passed a constitutional amendment depriving almost all elected lawmakers from the main pro-Kurdish party of their legal immunity.

The measure received 376 votes, above the threshold that allows President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ratify it without the need to take it to a referendum. While the amendment also lifts immunity from other parties’ lawmakers, the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, is its main target. The HDP has 59 of the legislature’s 550 lawmakers: a total of 405 cases have been opened against 50 of those 59, most related to terrorism charges.

The process is likely to increase friction with the European Union, whose leaders have promised Turkey closer ties, despite a deterioration in democratic standards under Erdogan, in exchange for his government’s help in stemming the flow of refugees from the Middle East. Kati Piri, Turkey rapporteur for the European Parliament, called Friday’s amendment an «historic mistake.»

 ‘Dark Days’

«Dark days in Turkey,» she said on Twitter, posting a picture of a group of Turkish ruling party lawmakers laughing as they cast votes. «Silencing elected MPs of the opposition HDP is a major leap away from democratic standards.»

The HDP first emerged as a force in Turkish politics last year, winning enough support in a June general election to briefly deprive the Islamist ruling party, which Erdogan founded, of a parliamentary majority it had held for 13 years. The HDP attracted voters among the nation’s large Kurdish minority with promises to move the struggle for Kurdish rights from the battlefield to the political arena. It also won support among Turkish liberals with promises to prevent Erdogan from consolidating power.

Selahattin Demirtas, HDP’s co-chairman, said his party would challenge the amendment’s legality at Turkey’s top constitutional court and members of the party would resist any attempts to question them.

“Those who want to take our statements should know they’ll only take us by force, and they should prepare accordingly,” Demirtas said in Ankara. “If we believed in our hearts that an independent judiciary would carry out a fair trial, we’d go voluntarily to court.”

 Crossing Rubicon

Erdogan has accused the HDP of not distancing itself from militants from the PKK, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey and allies including the EU and the U.S. The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast since 1984, in a war that has claimed more than 40,000 lives and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

“My people don’t want to see those supported by the separatist terrorist organization in parliament,” Erdogan said in televised remarks from Rize at a rally of supporters shortly before the vote on Friday. “If there is an auspicious outcome, these cases will go to the courts.”

According to a May 13 document from parliament, there were a total of 667 cases outstanding against 138 lawmakers. 27 of those are against the ruling AK Party, 51 against members of the main secularist opposition CHP, 9 against members of the nationalist MHP and 1 against an independent lawmaker. Nearly a third of the cases relate to alleged support for terrorism, according to Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag.

“Some Western politicians will be very nervous and unhappy that a key rubicon will have been crossed in terms of Turkish democracy,» said Tim Ash, head of emerging-market strategy at Nomura International Plc in London. «Not sure they will do much about it at this stage given the travails of the migrant crisis and Turkey’s leverage therein in restricting migrant flows to Europe.»


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