Turkish Indictment to Ban Pro-Kurdish Party Risks Biden’s Ire

Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), show support for its imprisoned leader Selahattin Demirtas. (Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg)

Turkish Indictment to Ban Pro-Kurdish Party Risks Biden’s Ire

Turkey’s chief prosecutor on Monday submitted an expanded indictment seeking to shut the leading pro-Kurdish political party, risking a new human-rights clash with the U.S. a week before the countries’ presidents meet.

The U.S. described an initial indictment against the HDP filed in March as designed to “unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters. Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in Brussels next Monday. The Turkish lira pared gains against the dollar after the announcement.

In an 850-page petition to Turkey’s top court, the prosecutor sought to disband the party and freeze its bank accounts, as well as bar nearly 500 members from politics, alleging ties to autonomy-seeking Kurdish militants, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

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.

Any banning of the HDP could affect presidential and parliamentary elections in two years’ time. Kurdish politicians might try to form a new bloc, or contest elections as independents, reducing their impact.

When it first petitioned the Constitutional Court, the prosecutor’s office accused the 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 the PKK.

The court, citing procedural flaws, returned the indictment about two weeks later. Turkish media reported that the court’s rapporteur had told judges the identity of some suspects, their roles in the party, and details of criminal charges against them were missing.

Preparations for a trial that could last months or even years are likely to start soon. Judges may decide to cut financial aid to the party from the treasury that was set at about $7.7 million for 2021.

The HDP won 80 parliament seats in 2015, temporarily denying 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. The case comes amid growing discontent over the Erdogan government’s handling of the economy and over allegations of corruption from a mafia boss, which he’s dismissed.

Turkey has also expanded its military drive against Kurdish militants, killing a senior PKK official in an attack near a refugee camp in northern Iraq, a strike that prompted the U.S. to express concern for the safety of its inhabitants.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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