The Turkish government has removed from office 48 co-mayors from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a left-wing party with majority Kurdish support, and replaced them with government-appointed trustees since 2019, a recent HDP report has revealed.
Speaking to journalists about the HDP report, party officials said 72 co-mayors had been arrested since the first trustee appointment in June 2019 and that 15 of them are currently behind bars.
The ousted mayors were elected in March 2019, when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered a significant blow by losing the mayoralties of three major cities — İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir — to opposition candidates.
Speaker of Parliament Mustafa Şentop said yesterday that Turkish prosecutors had sent 33 legal proceedings to the legislature in a bid to remove the immunity of at least nine HDP lawmakers and that the parliament would examine the cases.
The HDP has come under further scrutiny in the past few weeks, especially after the leader of the ruling party’s ultranationalist partner, Devlet Bahçeli, repeatedly called for the HDP to be shut down.
Its two former leaders have been in jail since they were arrested and prosecuted in 2016 after being stripped of their immunity while members of parliament. This occurred when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unleashed a sweeping political crackdown after surviving a coup attempt in July 2016.
The HDP stands accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but the party strongly denies any ties. The PKK has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
On Tuesday EU External Action Service Spokesperson Peter Stano issued a statement expressing concern over continuing pressure on the HDP and several of its members, replacing elected mayors and the attempt to lift the parliamentary immunity of opposition MPs in Turkey.
“As a long-standing member of the Council of Europe and a candidate country, Turkey must safeguard its democratic system, including respect for human rights and the rule of law and the freedom of political association,” the EEAS spokesperson said.
Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled on Friday to uphold a two-and-a-half-year sentence handed down to human rights defender and HDP deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu for a tweet.