Turkish Move to Shut Leading Kurdish Party Draws U.S. Rebuke

Turkey’s chief prosecutor moved to shut the leading pro-Kurdish party, filing charges that could bar its members from politics and play out in elections still two years away.

The case filed Wednesday accused the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, of attempting to divide the country along ethnic lines, echoing previous occasions when authorities shut the party’s predecessors for allegedly having ties to autonomy-seeking Kurdish militants.

Signaling an extension of a political and judicial crackdown on the HDP, parliament earlier revoked the membership of a pro-Kurdish lawmaker who’s been an outspoken critic of the government and had been convicted for producing separatist propaganda.

The U.S., a NATO ally which has clashed with Turkey over a string of issues in recent years, said the case would “unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters,” in statement released by State Department spokesman Ned Price. Germany’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the developments call “into question the rule of law in Turkey.”

The HDP, which is the third-biggest party in parliament, denies it’s influenced by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU as well as Turkey. It blames the group’s armed rebellion on a history of repressive policies toward Kurds.

“The government uses the judiciary, which it has made dependent and biased on itself, as a stick to design politics,” the HDP said in an emailed statement Wednesday. “The closure case against our party is a heavy blow to the democracy and law of the country.”

The HDP won 80 parliament seats in 2015, temporarily denying President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party a majority. Authorities later jailed its leaders and removed Kurdish mayors from office. It secured nearly 12% of votes in the last parliamentary election in 2018, and its now jailed co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas won more than 8% of ballots in the presidential race.

A year later the HDP helped Turkey’s main opposition party win mayoral races in the capital Ankara and Istanbul. Erdogan’s top nationalist ally Devlet Bahceli has pressed for action against the HDP before presidential and parliamentary elections in 2023.

If it’s banned, Kurdish politicians might try to form a new bloc, which again might face censure, or contest elections as independents, reducing their impact.

Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, tweeted that it was up to Turkey’s Constitutional Court to decide whether the HDP should be closed, adding it was an “indisputable fact” that the party had ties to the PKK.

The court will first appoint a rapporteur to examine the prosecutor’s case. If it decides to hear the charges, there will be a trial with a binding verdict. The process could take months. Judges could decide to cut financial aid from the treasury that was set at about $7.7 million for 2021.

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