Crackdown on the Kurdish Political Movement and Opposition Groups: 2023 in Review

The Turkish government’s persecution of the Kurdish political movement and pressures on other opposition groups persisted throughout 2023, a year in which Turkey held presidential and legislative elections.

The May 2023 re-election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the victory of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliamentary elections consolidated his authoritarian rule in Turkey and increased pressure on perceived critics and political opponents.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which was under the threat of closure by the high court, went through several name changes, including the Green Left Party (YSP), and ultimately settled on the Peoples’ Democracy and Equality Party, which was abbreviated as DEM after the Supreme Court of Appeals refused to authorize its initial acronym, HEDEP.

The DEM party continued to be in the crosshairs of President Erdoğan, ruling AKP officials and the pro-government mainstream media, which accuse it of affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed separatist group designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

Former HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, who were imprisoned in late 2016, spent the year behind bars despite an outstanding European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) order for Demirtaş’s release, while scores of former HDP politicians, including MPs and elected mayors who were ousted by the Ministry of Interior, continued to sit in pretrial detention, stand trial and serve their sentences.

Other segments of the opposition also went into elections under pressure from the authorities, most notably Ekrem İmamoğlu, the popular mayor of İstanbul whose potential nomination for the presidential election was obstructed by a politically motivated insult trial that continued to hang over his head throughout the year.

Here are some of the headlines from 2023 that concern the crackdown on Kurdish politicians and other political opposition:

Erdoğan vowed not to release Demirtaş from prison as long as he is in power

President Erdoğan promised not to release jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş from prison as long as he remains in power, a statement seen by many as an admission that Demirtaş’s imprisonment is politically motivated. More..

Demirtaş, who attended the hearing via video link from prison in Edirne, claimed that he is being persecuted because he is Kurdish and a Kurdish politician. More..

ECtHR faulted Turkey for violating confidentiality of jailed Kurdish leaders’ lawyer interviews

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Turkey violated the rights of Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, former co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party who have been imprisoned since 2016 on terrorism-related charges, by failing to respect the confidentiality of their interviews with their lawyers. More..

İstanbul’s popular opposition mayor faced trial

İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu (Photo: AFP)

İstanbul’s popular opposition mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu went on trial in June on fresh corruption charges that further clouded his hopes of succeeding President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. More..

Main opposition party mayor got suspended sentence on Erdoğan insult charges

Halil Arda, mayor of the Gaziemir district of western İzmir province, was handed down a one-year suspended sentence for insulting President Erdoğan on social media. More..

Top court found rights violation in terror conviction of association member

Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that the conviction of a man on terrorism charges over the alleged links of an association he’s a member of to a terrorist organization violated his right to organize.

The Malatya branch president of the Society Association (Toplum-Der), who is identified only by the initials C.A. and was arrested on charges of membership in a terrorist organization, was sentenced to more than six years in prison by the Malatya 3rd High Criminal Court and released pending appeal in February 2015. More..

Top prosecutor portrayed pro-Kurdish party as ‘recruitment office’ for PKK

Bekir Şahin, the chief public prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, who is seeking to close down the country’s second largest opposition party, the pro-Kurdish HDP, has accused the party of acting like the recruitment office of the outlawed PKK. More..

25 members of anti-government Furkan Foundation faced investigation for revealing police mistreatment

A Turkish prosecutor in the southern province of Adana launched an investigation into 25 members of the Furkan Foundation, an anti-government religious group, for social media posts claiming police mistreatment during a protest in March 2022. More..

Turkey investigated presidents of 12 bar associations for insult due to statement on military operations

Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation into the presidents of 12 bar associations across the country on allegations of insulting the Turkish state due to a joint statement they made against the country’s military operations in Syria and Iraq. More..

Turkish prosecutor demanded 15 years for Kurdish villager who was allegedly beaten by security forces

A Turkish prosecutor demanded 15 years in prison for Kurdish villager Osman Şiban, who was allegedly beaten by security forces in Van province and was accused of membership in the outlawed PKK, at the second hearing of his trial held in January. More..

Turkey’s top court removed freeze on funds allocated to pro-Kurdish party

Turkey’s Constitutional Court removed a freeze on state funds allocated to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) before the presidential and parliamentary elections in May. More..

Author, sociologist Selek said won’t return to Turkey to stand trial

Turkish sociologist, feminist, and author Pinar Selek poses in Nice, sounthern France, on March 11, 2023. – Turkish sociologist and dissident Pinar Selek, a refugee in France and the subject of an arrest warrant despite four acquittals, remains determined to defended her case after 25 years of proceedings, and before a new trial on March 31, 2023. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

Pınar Selek, a Turkish-French dissident sociologist and author living in France, did not go to Turkey to stand trial, the latest twist in a 25-year legal battle with the authorities. Turkey accused Selek over a 1998 explosion that killed seven people and even after four acquittals wanted her in the dock again after issuing an international arrest warrant in January. More..

21 faced detention in southern Turkey for financially helping inmates from leftist terror groups

A prosecutor’s office in southern Turkey issued detention warrants for 21 people on the grounds that they provided financial support to people who are jailed over alleged links to leftist terror groups. More..

İstanbul police detained 59 at event marking 10th anniversary of Gezi protests

Police intervention in a demonstration held in central İstanbul by a group wanting to mark the 10th anniversary of the anti-government Gezi Park protests and commemorate the activists killed in the 2013 events resulted in the detention of 59 people. More..

Turkish police in June dispersed a demonstration by a group commemorating 26-year-old activist Ethem Sarısülük, who was killed during the Gezi Park protests. More..

Grup Yorum concert for ‘quake solidarity’ cancelled by local authorities 

Folk music band Grup Yorum said on Twitter that a concert scheduled to take place on July 7 in İstanbul’s Sultangazi district was cancelled by the local authorities. The group said the concert was intended to increase solidarity for the victims of major earthquakes that hit southeastern Turkish provinces in early February. More..

İstanbul mayor’s bus pelted during election campaign

Angry protesters on May 8 pelted İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu’s campaign bus with stones while he was touring Turkey’s conservative heartland ahead of the general election. More..

Former Kurdish MP detained over 2014 protests in reaction to ISIL siege of Syrian Kurdish town

Former HDP deputy Hüda Kaya

Hüda Kaya, a former member of the Turkish parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was detained at İstanbul Airport in November on charges of “participating in an unlawful assembly,” part of an ongoing investigation related to the “Kobanê trial.” More..

Kurdish politician in Turkey kept in jail despite eligibility for release

Gültan Kışanak, a Kurdish politician and the former co-mayor of Diyarbakır incarcerated in Turkey, was denied release by the authorities despite her eligibility to be freed. More..

Trustees appointed to municipalities upon Erdoğan’s instructions, then-interior minister said

Then-interior minister Süleyman Soylu said trustees in municipalities in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey were appointed by his ministry upon instructions from President Erdoğan. More..

Top prosecutor in Turkey defied Constitutional Court ruling, said jailed MP should not be released

The office of Turkey’s top prosecutor found the continued incarceration of an opposition lawmaker legally appropriate despite a recent ruling from the country’s Constitutional Court stating that the lawmaker’s rights were violated. More..

Turkey detained 126 in operation targeting Kurds ahead of critical elections

Turkey in April detained 126 pro-Kurdish activists, journalists and lawyers in raids conducted just three weeks before the general election on May 9. More..

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