The Turkish authorities have violated voters’ rights by removing and arresting democratically elected pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) mayors across southeastern Turkey, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
The government has replaced 23 of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the March 2019 local polls with government-appointees. The removal of mayors escalated after Turkey launched a military offensive in north Syria against Kurdish militias in October. The 23 mayors are currently held in pretrial detention on terrorism charges.
“Removing, detaining, and putting on trial local Kurdish politicians as armed militants with no compelling evidence of criminal activity seems to be the Turkish government’s preferred way to wipe out political opposition,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These cases are not linked to any legitimate counterterrorism effort but trample the rights of the mayors and the 1.8 million voters who elected them.”
The rights group said it had examined 18 cases in which courts ordered the pretrial detention of mayors, as well as records of their testimony before prosecutors and, in three cases, prosecutors’ indictments.
Its findings showed that “the court decisions relied on vague and generalised allegations against the mayors by witnesses, some secret, and on details of their political activities and social media postings, which fail to establish reasonable suspicion of criminal activity that would justify detention.”
The government accuses the HDP of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey for more than three decades. After the previous local elections in 2014, the government seized 94 municipalities from HDP mayors.