Turkey’s removal and arrest of multiple democratically elected Kurdish mayors across southeastern Turkey violates voters’ rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a press statement on Thursday, according to the Kurdistan24 news website.
The New York-based human rights watchdog said the Turkish government is intensifying its attack on the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) by removing legitimate mayors and preventing elected local councils across Turkey’s majority Kurdish Southeast from functioning.
Twenty-three mayors are now in pretrial detention on allegations that they committed terrorist offenses. One of them, Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, the elected mayor of the Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality, will have a second trial hearing on Monday on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.
“Although the prosecutor has issued a legal opinion requesting Mızraklı’s conviction, the evidence in an indictment against him does not support the charge that he was involved with terrorism or committed crimes,” HRW said.
“Removing, detaining, and putting on trial local Kurdish politicians as armed militants with no compelling evidence of criminal activity seems to be the Turkish government’s preferred way to wipe out political opposition,” Hugh Williamson, HRW Europe and Central Asia director, was quoted as saying in the statement.
“These cases are not linked to any legitimate counterterrorism effort but trample the rights of the mayors and the 1.8 million voters who elected them.”
Dismissals and detention of Kurdish mayors from the left-leaning pro-Kurdish HDP party rapidly increased after Turkey’s Oct. 9, 2019 military incursion into northeast Syria to remove Syrian Kurdish forces and administration controlling the area, HRW said.
Since then, the courts have ordered that mayors be held in pretrial detention pending completion of investigations and trials for alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The removal of the mayors and disempowerment of local councils has effectively canceled the results of the March 31 local elections in the most populous cities of the southeastern and eastern provinces, HRW said.
Thirty-two HDP mayors in the region have been stripped of their office and replaced with Ankara-appointed provincial and district governor “trustees.” The HDP won 65 municipalities in the region in the March local election.
This is not the first time the Turkish government has dismissed HDP mayors or arrested HDP members. Under a state of emergency that followed a July 2016 attempted coup, the Turkish government took direct control of 94 HDP municipalities and removed mayors and councils who had won at the polls in the 2014 local elections.