Turkey detains 126 in operation targeting Kurds ahead of critical elections

Turkey on Tuesday detained 126 pro-Kurdish activists, journalists and lawyers in raids conducted just three weeks before a knife-edge vote that could extend President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s two-decade rule, Agence France-Presse and Turkish media outlets reported.

The mass raids — described by sources as a “counterterrorism” operation — were carried out in 21 provinces including the majority-Kurdish southeastern province of Diyarbakır.

State media TRT reported that police had detained people suspected of financing the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or attracting new members to the group.

Deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, the PKK has been waging a decades-long war against the state for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority.

The operation also involved suspects who transferred money to the PKK from municipalities held by Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), TRT said.

The HDP — the second largest opposition party in parliament — is widely seen as a kingmaker in the tight race.

Erdoğan has often accused the HDP of alleged links to the PKK, which the party denies.

The HDP said last month it would not field a presidential candidate in the May 14 elections, giving tacit support to Erdoğan’s main rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

The detainees include HDP politicians, journalists, lawyers and human rights activists.

According to the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya news agency (MA), police officers raided the houses of journalists from the agency, the Yeni Yaşam daily and Xwebûn, the only Kurdish-language newspaper distributed within Turkey; lawyers from the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD) and the Diyarbakır Bar Association; politicians from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP); and activists from Turkey’s oldest human rights group, the Human Rights Association (İHD) early on Tuesday morning.

Mezopotamya reported that its editor Abdurrahman Gök and correspondent Ahmet Kanbal were detained in addition to Yeni Yaşam’s managing editor Osman Akın; Kadri Esen, owner of Xwebûn; ÖHD Amed branch co-chair Halise Dakalı and lawyers Metin Özbadem, Özüm Vurgun, Bünyamin Şeker, Berdan Acun and Pirozhan Karali; DBP Co-chair Saliha Aydeniz’s press advisor Sezen Mercan; Yavuz Akkuzu, Özcan Ateş and Elvan Koçer Yıldırım from Amed City Theater; and politicians Halil Delen, Havva Bildik and Habat Mimkara.

The Diyarbakır Bar Association said detention warrants have been issued for as many as 200 people, adding that a gag order has been imposed on the investigation. They said protective measures such as detention and arrest are used “without justification, necessity, and in a disproportionate manner” against human rights defenders.

The ÖHD stated in a series of tweets that a 24-hour restriction on meeting with lawyers was imposed on their detained members and clients.

“Political operations, illegitimate restrictions, and pressure can’t intimidate us. The defense will not be silenced! We will stand by our members, colleagues and clients!” the association added.

Reacting to the operation on social media, HDP vice chair Tayip Temel also said it came weeks before the presidential and parliamentary elections slated for May 14 since Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were afraid of losing and were taking such steps to secure more votes.

“The members of our party’s MYK [Central Decision Board], vice co-chairs, journalists, artists and lawyers, along with dozens of our friends, were detained in Amed. You can’t escape from defeat!” Temel said.

Öztürk Türkdoğan, a parliamentary candidate for İstanbul from the Green Left Party (YSP) and former co-chair of the İHD, on Tuesday told the Artı Gerçek news website that the operation’s timing before the elections showed that it was carried out with political motives.

“The government realized it will lose the elections. … I believe that such an operation was carried out to intimidate voters. … However, the voters won’t be affected by such operations anymore. I think this will backfire,” he added.

İHD co-chair  Eren Keskin, a prominent Kurdish lawyer and human rights activist, also told Artı Gerçek that the morning raids and detentions were part of an “unlawful and arbitrary intimidation operation” aimed at the elections.

Meanwhile, jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş tweeted through his lawyers that Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu had more people detained than attend his election rallies.

Demirtaş called on HDP members across the country to conduct their election campaigns with patience and determination, saying that the government will not be able to prevent the advent of peace, welfare and democracy in the country.

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