ANKARA (Reuters) – A top Turkish prosecutor filed a case with the constitutional court on Wednesday demanding the closure of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in the culmination of a years-long clampdown on parliament’s third largest party.
Turkey has a long history of shutting down political parties which it regards as a threat and has in the past banned a series of other pro-Kurdish parties.
The HDP had recently come under intensified pressure, with nationalist allies of President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) calling for it to be banned over alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group.
That has coincided with falling poll support for the AKP and its nationalist allies as Erdogan’s government battles the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Elections are not scheduled until 2023.
The HDP said prosecutors acted on political orders and accused the ruling AK Party of shaping politics through the courts.
“The closure case launched against our party is a heavy blow to democracy and law,” the HDP said in a statement, adding that its “determined struggle for democratic politics” would continue.
The embattled lira extended losses on concerns about the political impact of the move, weakening 2% to 7.64 against the dollar.
“(The HDP) move together with the PKK terrorist group and other linked organisations, they act as a branch of the organisation with the aim of breaking the unity of the state,” appeals court chief prosecutor Bekir Sahin said in a statement.
The HDP, which has 55 seats in the 600-member parliament, denies any links to the militants.
The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union. It has fought an insurgency against the state in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement a decision to dissolve the HDP “would unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters, further undermine democracy in Turkey, and deny millions of Turkish citizens their chosen representation.”
The Haberturk news website cited the indictment as saying the prosecutor demanded a political ban for more than 600 HDP officials, including its current co-chairs and the jailed former leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.
The prosecutor also demanded financial restrictions on the party, including a halt to financial aid from the Treasury and a cautionary judgment on the party’s assets, Haberturk said.
HISTORY OF PARTY CLOSURES
Islamist parties have also been banned in previous decades, with Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party itself surviving a closure case in 2008. In years since, Erdogan has repeatedly expressed his opposition to closing parties down.
HDP co-leaders Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar said earlier this month that if shut down the party’s members would regroup under a different banner, as was done in the past when similar parties were closed.
The HDP first took part in elections in 2014, espousing broadly left-wing and pro-minority policies which helped it appeal beyond its grassroots support in the mainly Kurdish southeast to liberal voters elsewhere. In 2018 parliamentary elections it won 11.7% of the vote, or nearly 6 million votes.
Earlier on Wednesday Turkey’s parliament stripped prominent HDP deputy and human rights advocate Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his seat over a criminal conviction for spreading “terrorist propaganda” in a social media post.
The HDP says Gergerlioglu, who received a 2-1/2 year jail sentence, was punished for sharing on Twitter the link to a news story that included comments from the PKK.
The U.S. State Department said the move against Gergerlioglu was “troubling”.
This month Erdogan announced a plan to strengthen rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression, but his critics say it is just a public relations exercise.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones, Alexandra Hudson & Shri Navaratnam)