Turkish gov’t launches probe into pro-Kurdish HDP’s newly-elected co-chair

Sezai Temelli and Pervin Buldan.

A Turkish prosecutor launched a terrorism investigation into the newly-elceted co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) on Monday, just a day after she was elected, accusing her of speaking against Turkey’s offensive in Syria.

Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office has accused Pervin Buldan of describing the operation against a Kurdish armed groups in Syria as an attack on civilian Kurds, during a speech at the conference that named her co-leader of the HDP. A similar investigation was also launched against another prominent HDP lawmaker, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, the prosecutor said in a statement.

“An investigation has been launched into lawmakers Pervin Buldan and Sırrı Süreyya Önder by the chief prosecutor for the crimes of carrying out terror propaganda, inciting grudges and enmity in the public,” a document from the prosecutor’s office said.

An investigation by a prosecutor is the first step in collecting evidence for an indictment, and could lead to the detention of the accused.

Turkey launched an air and ground offensive, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, against the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region last month. Authorities have said they would prosecute those opposing or criticizing the incursion, and some 666 people have been detained so far.

Turkey’s Interior Ministry on Monday announced that 474 people have been detained on terror charges due to their posts on social media critical of a Turkish military incursion in the northern Syrian town of Afrin, while 192 have been detained for taking part in street demonstrations protesting the operation.

The HDP, parliament’s second-largest opposition party, elected Buldan and Sezai Temelli as its co-heads at the congress in Ankara. Its previous co-leaders and several other prominent members are in jail for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. They deny the charges.

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish YPG an extension of the PKK and launched its operation in Syria to sweep the fighters from its southern border. That has complicated relations with NATO ally Washington, which backs the YPG in the fight against ISIL.

During a speech on Sunday, Buldan called for the end of Turkey’s operation in Syria and the revival of peace talks between the government and the PKK. Such talks have been frozen since a ceasefire broke down in July 2015, and the largely Kurdish southeast subsequently saw some of the worst violence since the insurgency began.

“Give up on war policies that lead to pain and destruction. The solution is not in fighting, it is in peace,” she said.

The HDP’s former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş, Figen Yüksekdağ, and eight other lawmakers were not present at the convention because of a government crackdown that has imprisoned them along with 80 mayors and some 7,000 HDP members. Over 10,000 people watching the congress chanted slogans in solidary with the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in Syria that is under a weeks-long Turkish military offensive.

Ankara Deputy Chief Prosecutor Ahmet Akça has also demanded up to 10 years in prison for Pervin Buldan in an indictment about her, the pro-government Star reported on Monday. According to the report, in the indictment prepared by Akça, Buldan was accused of “membership in a terrorist organization” for 12 speeches given between 2008 and 2015. Buldan faces a sentence of from five to 10 years in prison.

Serpil Kemalbay who last year replaced Yüksekdağ and stepped down at the congress vowed defiance. “We can beat fascism,” she said, urging resistance to Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration that main opposition parties accuse of creating a “one-man rule” in the country.

The newly-elected Temelli praised his party’s supporters for showing up. “You, our dear comrades who have courageously come here, were put through several security checks to weaken our congress. All the trouble they went to is in vain. These fools don’t know that a device to block courage is yet to be invented,” he said.

Pervin Buldan said the government was afraid of her party. “Because we defend a democratic, participatory way of ruling a country. They should be afraid,” she said.

In a letter from jail to the audience, the charismatic Kurdish leader and a fierce opponent of Erdogan, Demirtaş said the HDP had to install a new, “determined, and courageous leadership.”

“If fascism’s response to the resistance is arresting us all, even if they build a thousand new prisons, they wouldn’t find enough place to fit us,” his letter read.

Although the HDP central committee had requested a third term from Demirtaş, he had ruled out a re-nomination. Demirtaş’ withdrawal from the political scene could prove fateful for his left-wing party, the larger Kurdish movement in Turkey, and the opposition as a whole in the run-up to parliamentary, local, and presidential elections set for 2019. Under his leadership, the HDP became the most outspoken opposition bloc, and the first pro-Kurdish party to pass Turkey’s 10 percent-high parliamentary electoral threshold in elections three years ago.

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