March 17 (UPI) — In actions described by Western nations and human rights groups as undermining democracy in Turkey, officials moved to disband the pro-Kurdish opposition on Wednesday after stripping one of its lawmakers of his seat.
Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of the People’s Democratic Party, which is known by the initials HDP, was expelled from the Turkish parliament after his controversial conviction five years ago over a social media post accused of being terrorist propaganda was upheld last month, his party said in a statement.
The court ruling upholding his 30-month sentence was read aloud in parliament on Wednesday, clearing the way for Gergerlioglu, who is a critic of President Recep Erdogan and a human rights advocate, to be imprisoned, according to the HDP, which described his crime as retweeting news calling for the resumption of peace talks between Ankara and the Kurds.
“I will resist the coup against the Turkish Grand National Assembly, the will of the nation cannot be trampled,” Gergerlioglu said in a statement. “Wanting peace is not a crime.”
Later Wednesday, a prosecutor filed a motion with the Constitutional Court of Turkey demanding the HDP be disbanded and closed, accusing it of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s communications director, said in a statement.
“HDP’s senior leaders and spokespeople, through their words and deeds, have repeatedly and consistently proved that they are the PKK’s political wing,” he said. “Whether that relationship warrants the HDP’s closure, or its subjecting to another punitive measure, is a question that the Constitutional Court alone can answer.”
Turkey, the European Union and the United States have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization.
According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, PKK militants have been battling the Turkish government for decades under the banner of Kurdistan nationalism. The United States, in its war against the Islamic State in the Middle East, has partnered with PKK-linked Kurdish fighters.
The state-run Anadolu Agency reported Wednesday that Turkish politicians have for years called for the HDP to be disbanded as several of its elected officials and executives have been charged with terrorism-related offenses.
The HDP said the termination of Gergelioglu’s seat is an ongoing attempt of a civil coup of the parliament that began in November 2016 with the arrests of the party’s co-chairs and deputies.
Including Gergerlioglu, 14 members of parliament have been imprisoned, the party said.
“The AKP government is likely to further intensify its policies of suffocating the HDP and democratic opposition,” Feleknas Uca and Hisyar Ozsoy, HDP’s foreign affairs spokespersons, said in the party’s statement. “The democratic will of the people has been destroyed once again and the main democratic principle of ‘separation of powers’ is no longer operative.”
A day earlier, Human Rights Watch warned Turkey against expelling Gergerlioglu, stating to do so over his “wrongful conviction” would be a serious violation of his right to freedom of expression and of the voters’ right to choose their representatives.
“Any move to strip Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his parliamentary sear as a prelude to jailing him would look like a reprisal by the Erdogan government for his brave and vocal stance in support of thousands of victims of human rights violations,” Hugh Williamson, HRW’s director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. “Gergerlioglu’s conviction is a blatant violation of his right to free speech and using it as a pretext to expel him from parliament would show deep disdain for democratic norms and the right to political association.”
Nacho Sanchez Amor, the European Parliament standing rapporteur for Turkey, issued a statement after Gergerlioglu was expelled in condemnation of the move.
“His conviction, expulsion and expected incarceration because of a social media post constitute a severe violation of his human rights and another serious step that further undermines the trust in Turkey’s parliamentary democracy,” Sanchez Amor said, stating Gergerlioglu’s prosecution was done on unfound grounds.
“His case is another crude example of the dire situation of freedom of speech in the country, the abuse of anti-terror measures to silence any critical voice and the particular crackdown on opposition, especially the HDP party, in an attempt to limit pluralism and political debate,” he said, calling on Turkish authorities to live up to the values of their country’s constitution.
Ned Price, the U.S. State Department spokesman, said the United States is following the “troubling moves” in Turkey.
“We are also monitoring the initiation of efforts to dissolve the People’s Democratic Party, 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,” he said in a statement. “We call on the government of Turkey to respect freedom of expression in line with protection in the Turkish constitution and with Turkey’s international obligations.”