Leyla İmret, a dismissed pro-Kurdish mayor in Turkey, gives speech at CoE

A former mayor of Turkey’s Cizre district in the southeastern province of Şırnak who is being sought on an arrest warrant for alleged terror links gave a speech at a session of the Council of Europe (CoE) on Wednesday.

Leyla İmret, a former mayor from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) who has a warrant out for her arrest for allegedly disseminating “terrorist propaganda,” delivered a speech in the French city of Strasbourg at a session of the Council of Europe titled “Mayors Under Pressure.” The speech could add to tensions between European nations and the oppressive Turkish government under the leadership of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

While İmret was supported by European mayors, such as Jean-Louis Testud, mayor of the French town of Surenes, her speech was not welcomed by the Turkish representatives there.

İzmit city Mayor Nevzat Doğan, speaking to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, claimed that İmret delivering a speech is “neglecting the superiority of law and values of the CoE.”

“Her speaking here is a clear violation of CoE standards,” Doğan alleged.

The former mayor had said she fled Turkey despite a ban on leaving by going to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq and to Germany from there.

İmret, part of a group carrying out a hunger strike to protest a Turkish military campaign in Syria’s Afrin district, is accused by the Turkish government of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

She was elected mayor of Cizre in 2014 after winning 83 percent of the vote. In 2016 a trustee was appointed to Cizre by Ankara through a state of emergency decree. In the same year İmret was briefly detained by law enforcement but was released after testifying with a ban on leaving the country.

The Turkish government’s crackdown on the Kurdish political movement began in late 2016 with the arrest of high profile politicians, including the party’s then co-chairs, Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, which led to the detention of at least 5,000 members of the HDP, including 80 mayors.

Trustees have been appointed to dozens of municipalities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast. There are currently 10 HDP deputies behind bars. The developments have attracted widespread criticism from the region and Western countries.

Turkish authorities had conducted direct talks with Abdullah Öcalan, jailed leader of the outlawed PKK for several years until a truce in effect collapsed in the summer of 2015. Since then, there have been heavy clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces.

More than 40,000 people, including 5,500 security force members, have been killed in four decades of fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Over 1,200 Turkish security personnel and civilians, including a number of women and children, have been killed since July 2015 alone, when the Turkish government and the PKK resumed the armed struggle. PKK has been listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the European Union.

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