Police fired plastic bullets during post-election protests in Kurdish city: report

The Van Bar Association, the Human Rights Association (İHD) and the Association for the Freedom of Lawyers (ÖHD) have prepared a joint report on law enforcement’s handling of protests that erupted in Van over a local election controversy, accusing the police of firing plastic bullets at the protesters and using disproportionate force, the Mezopotamya news agency reported on Tuesday.

The findings of the report were presented at a press conference held at the bar association’s offices on Monday.

The report said the plastic bullets and tear gas canisters caused injury to several protesters.

The Van protests broke out on April 2 after a local election board refused to certify the victory of Abdullah Zeydan, the mayoral candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy and Equality Party (DEM Party).

According to the NGO report, the DEM Party’s provincial headquarters were surrounded by armored vehicles and riot police, imposing a de facto detention on hundreds of protesters who were in the building and its yard at the time and who were not even allowed to leave the scene individually.

The police also used excessive force while detaining 26 people.

Later on April 2, the local governor’s office imposed a blanket ban on all outdoor demonstrations and prohibited entry and exit from the city of Van.

The next day, several parliamentarians and party executives who arrived to support Zeydan were also subjected to tear gas and pressurized water.

The authorities detained 230 people, the report said.

The police also intervened in a press briefing organized by NGOs in front of the Van courthouse, detaining and rear-handcuffing seven lawyers and one journalist.

The security forces continued their blockades even after the protests ended, with the Supreme Election Council (YSK) approving DEM’s appeal against the local election authority decision on the evening of April 3, and used excessive force on crowds that this time had gathered to celebrate.

The Van protests also quickly spread to other Kurdish-majority provinces, leading to the detention of more than 300 people.

Zeydan’s case was perceived by many as yet another assault on the Kurdish minority’s political rights by the Turkish government, reminiscent of the Interior Ministry’s summary ouster of dozens of elected Kurdish mayors who were removed from office and replaced by pro-government trustees following the previous local elections in 2019.

Turkish authorities often accuse pro-Kurdish politicians of affiliation with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed separatist group designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

However, the investigations into pro-Kurdish MPs and local politicians often rely on their public remarks or social media commentary as evidence, based on Turkey’s overly broad and ambiguous anti-terror laws allowing too much room for interpretation.

Rights groups also describe Turkey’s judiciary as lacking in independence. The country was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the 2023 Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in late October, dropping one place in comparison to the previous year.

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