Turkey’s top judicial body launches inquiry into court that reinstated Kurdish mayor’s political rights

Newly-elected Van Mayor Abdullah Zeydan

One day after Turkey’s election authority decided to reinstall a Kurdish politician who had been initially denied the mandate to serve as mayor of the eastern province of Van, the country’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) launched an inquiry into the court that had reinstated the mayor’s political rights before the local elections held on March 31, Turkish Minute reported.

The court under investigation by the HSK is the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court, which last year reinstated the political rights of Abdullah Zeydan, the candidate from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) who won the election in Van in a landslide victory on Sunday.

On Tuesday the provincial election authority in Van granted the mandate to serve as the province’s mayor to the runner-up, Abdullah Arvas from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), citing a court decision that revoked Zeydan’s right to run for election two days before the March 31 local polls.

Since Zeydan had completed all legal procedures and applied to Turkey’s election authority, the Supreme Election Board (YSK), which approved his candidacy, according to a statement by the party, depriving him of his win led to outrage.

In the wake of massive protests and criticism from the DEM Party and other opposition parties, including the most successful in Sunday’s elections, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the YSK on Wednesday reversed the Van provincial election authority’s decision and reinstated Zeydan as the mayor of Van.

The HSK’s move now puts Zeydan’s future at risk once again.

Why the politician faced a political ban stems from a government crackdown on the Kurdish political movement in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016.

Then a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the predecessor of the DEM Party, Zeydan was detained on terrorism charges in November 2016 along with several other HDP deputies, including the party’s then-co-chairs Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş.

He stood trial on terror-related charges and was given eight-year sentence in 2017 by the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court.

A regional appeals court overturned Zeydan’s initial conviction, citing a violation of his right to a defense. In the retrial in 2018, the prosecution demanded the same eight-year sentence, to which the court agreed.

While the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the conviction in December 2022, including more than three years on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda and five years for aiding and abetting, it also ruled for Zeydan’s release due to time served.

Zeydan was released from prison in January 2023.

In April 2023 the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court ruled for the reinstatement of Zeydan’s political rights after he filed a petition, since a ban had been imposed on him due to the charge of disseminating terrorist propaganda.

The court’s decision, which was reversed on March 29, had made Zeydan eligible to stand for election.

Zeydan was declared a mayoral candidate by the DEM Party for Van in February. His candidacy became final in the absence of any objections on March 3.

Zeydan won 55.4 percent of the vote in the city, while Arvas garnered only 27.1 percent in Sunday’s local elections.

‘Iron fist’ of the state

Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who spoke about the protests sparked by the denial of the Van mayorship to Zeydan, accused the protestors of “terrorizing” the streets while praising law enforcement for preventing the incidents from escalating.

“Whoever sees violence, chaos, terrorism and vandalism as a way of seeking rights will be faced with the iron fist of our state. No civilized country in the world would tolerate such a thing,” Erdoğan said, referring to the protests.

Erdoğan’s AKP suffered the worst defeat since its establishment in Sunday’s election, losing major cities and a significant portion of the vote across the country.

Mehmet Uçum, an advisor to Erdoğan who also spoke about the protests, slammed people who showed solidarity with Zeydan in the wake of the initial decision by the election authority not to recognize his election victory. He accused them of rebelling against the state and collaborating with terrorists for failing to wait for the YSK to make a final decision about Zeydan.

Kurdish politicians and some of their supporters in Turkey are frequently accused of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies. They deny the accusations.

Take a second to support Stockholm Center for Freedom on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!