The US issued a warning to the Turkish government late Wednesday cautioning Ankara against its moves to suppress the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP.)
The warning, issued by State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, follows on two developments earlier that day.
One was a vote by Turkey’s parliament to strip the HDP’s Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his seat in that body, the Grand National Assembly, which deprives Gergerlioglu of his parliamentary immunity.
The parliament’s decision follows a ruling by the Court of Appeal last month to uphold a prison sentence against Gergerlioglu for a five-year old tweet, and the move would appear to be preliminary to his actually being sent to jail.
In 2016, Gergerlioglu retweeted a report from the Turkish media about the collapse of negotiations between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Although the tweet was innocuous – a T24 news story – he was, nonetheless, charged with “making terrorist propaganda.”
The second issue prompting Price’s warning was the filing of a legal case by a senior prosecutor with Turkey’s constitutional court, calling for the dissolution of the HDP in its entirety.
“The United States is closely following events in Turkey,” Price said, “including troubling moves on March 17” to strip Gergerlioglu of his seat in parliament.
“We are also monitoring the initiation of efforts to dissolve the People’s Democratic Party,” Price continued, describing that as “a decision that would unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters, further undermine democracy in Turkey, and deny millions of Turkish citizens their chosen representation.”
The HDP is Turkey’s third largest political party. It has 55 MPs in the 600-member Grand National Assembly.
A charismatic political figure, Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the HDP, was imprisoned in November 2016, where he has remained for nearly five years, charged with disseminating terrorist propaganda. Last Friday, the European Court of Human Rights urged his “immediate release,” along with Osman Kavala, a liberal businessman and philanthropist, improbably charged with association with the “Gulenist Terror Group.”
Cool Ties Between Biden and Erdogan
Former US President Donald Trump cultivated an amicable relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the US position is quite different with the new president, Joe Biden.
It is customary for senior members of a new US administration soon after taking office to contact their counterparts in countries with which the US has friendly ties. But Biden has, notably, yet to speak with Erdogan.
And while human rights and promoting democracy were not part of Trump’s foreign policy agenda, they certainly are for the Biden administration.
Joey Hood, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, spoke on Tuesday at an event commemorating the 33rd anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s poison gas attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja.
Biden was then a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which sponsored legislation aimed at imposing stiff sanctions on Saddam’s regime for its use of chemical weapons against the Kurds. As Hood explained, the assault on Halabja contributed to his determination to “put human rights at the core of America’s foreign policy agenda.”
“We’re elevating human rights issues,” Hood stated, “and we’ll defend the right of activists, political dissidents, and journalists around the world to seek to speak their minds freely, without fear of reprisal and violence.”