Turkey’s top court finds no rights violation in cases of 2 dismissed mayors

The Turkish Constitutional Court has found no violation of rights in the cases of two former mayors from pro-Kurdish parties in Turkey’s southeastern Diyarbakır province who were removed from office and replaced by government-appointed trustees in 2015 and 2016, Turkish Minute reported on Thursday.

The court’s decision on the applications of former Sur district co-mayor Azize Değer Kutlu from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and former Hani district co-mayor Abdurrahman Zorlu from the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), a regional sister party of HDP, were published on Thursday in the Official Gazette.

According to the Official Gazette, Kutlu claimed her rights to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence as well as the principle of no punishment without law (nulla poena sine lege) were violated in her case, while Zorlu claimed his rights to be elected and the presumption of innocence were violated due to his removal from office.

Kutlu was elected as Sur co-mayor in the 2014 local elections and removed from office after being arrested on charges of “disrupting the unity and integrity of the state” in 2015.

Zorlu, who was elected Hani co-mayor in the 2009 elections and re-elected in 2014, was dismissed after being arrested on charges of “membership in an armed terrorist organization” in 2016.

The Constitutional Court unanimously found the former mayors’ applications “inadmissible,” rejecting their claims of rights violations as “groundless.”

The court also decided that expenses for the proceedings should be paid by the applicants.

A political and legal assault on the pro-Kurdish HDP launched by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) when talks for a truce between Kurdish militants and the government failed in 2015 intensified after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a coup attempt in July 2016 that was followed by a sweeping political crackdown.

As part of its crackdown on the HDP, the AKP government appointed trustees to replace mayors who had been democratically elected in the 2014 local elections. All but six of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast in 2019 also have been replaced by trustees.

In its latest report on Turkey, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (CoE) highlighted a “generally degrading situation” with regard to local democracy in Turkey, expressing particular concern about the fact that the government continues to suspend mayors when a criminal investigation is opened against them -– based on an overly broad definition of terrorism -– and replace them with non-elected officials.

Stating that the practice undermines the democratic choice of Turkish citizens and impedes the proper functioning of local democracy in Turkey, the congress called on Turkish authorities to modify the definition of terrorism in its legislation and to stop the practice of removing mayors without court decisions.

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