DEM Party mayors face travel bans imposed without court orders

Nine co-mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) have been banned from leaving Turkey without the issuance of court orders, the Bianet news website reported on Monday.

Mehmet Rüştü Tiryaki, a party executive responsible for local administration, announced the news during a press conference at the parliament on Monday.

“To prevent them from traveling abroad, seeking funding and developing international relations, a travel ban has been imposed on many of our co-mayors,” Tiryaki said.

Turkish national police (EGM) reportedly ordered the precautionary measure on the grounds of “general security” without obtaining a court ruling. The decision was communicated to the co-mayors by provincial governors.

Although Turkey’s local elections entail electing a single mayor for each office, the DEM Party uses the co-mayor system to ensure gender equality.

The co-mayors affected by the travel restrictions are Diyarbakır Co-mayor Serra Bucak, Dicle district Co-mayor Hacı Akengin, Kayapınar district Co-mayor Berivan Gülşen Sincar, Ergani district Co-mayor Şiyar Güldiken, Bağlar district Co-mayor Siraç Çelik, Çınar district Co-mayor Semra Akyüz, Silvan district Co-mayor Sevim Biçici, Artuklu district Co-mayor Mehmet Ali Amak and Akdeniz Co-mayor Hoşyar Sarıyıldız.

It is common for the Turkish authorities to prosecute elected Kurdish mayors. Following the 2019 municipal elections, numerous Kurdish mayors were ousted by the Interior Ministry and replaced by government-appointed trustees on allegations of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The PKK has been waging an armed campaign against the Turkish state in the country’s southeast since 1984 and is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

Kurdish politicians commonly face accusations of membership in or spreading propaganda on behalf of the PKK in their speeches and online commentary or attendance at events.

Discussing the continued removal of mayors, Tiryaki said, “The right to elect and be elected in Turkey has been under threat for a long time.”

Since a 2016 coup attempt, numerous DEM Party mayors have been removed from office by the Ministry of Interior.

 “The government, which saw the coup as a divine blessing, used these decrees to remove approximately 100 of our mayors in 2016,” Tiryaki said. So far, none of the mayors have been reinstated, despite government assurances that these were temporary measures.

Tiryaki highlighted the financial struggles of municipalities under trustee administration, noting that they are now burdened with insurmountable debt. He argued that these debts are being used as a tool to suppress the municipalities’ operations.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stepped up a crackdown on the Kurdish political movement following the failed coup in July 2016, arresting dozens of Kurdish politicians, removing democratically elected mayors and closing down Kurdish media outlets.

The DEM Party’s predecessor, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), won 65 municipalities in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions in the local elections on March 31, 2019, but due to the decisions of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) in six cases and the Interior Ministry, nearly 50 mayors have been removed from office or not allowed to assume office.

In the March local elections, the DEM Party won 10 provincial municipalities in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, including the region’s largest city of Diyarbakır.

The party won back 37 of the 48 municipalities whose mayors were ousted by the government after the 2019 elections.

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