Erdogan continues to target Turkey's opposition as MPs jailed and sued

Prominent Kurdish former MP faces 22 years in jail while a member of the main opposition is being sued for comparing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with General Franco

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attending a military parade marking Azerbaijan's victory against Armenia in their conflict for control over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, in Baku. AFP
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attending a military parade marking Azerbaijan's victory against Armenia in their conflict for control over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, in Baku. AFP

A Turkish court on Monday sentenced a prominent Kurdish former MP who went on a months-long hunger strike, to more than 22 years in jail on terrorism-related charges.

A lawsuit was filed on the same day against a member of the main opposition party for insulting the president.

The crackdown on opposition to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in recent years is a strain on relations with the European Union at a time when Turkey is growing increasingly isolated, and has drawn criticism from international rights groups.

Leyla Guven, 56, an opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy who was stripped of parliamentary immunity in June, was convicted of membership of a terrorist group and disseminating terror istpropaganda for outlawed Kurdish militants.

She gained international attention by launching a 200-day hunger strike in 2018, in an attempt to end jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan's isolation by securing him access to his family and lawyers.

Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is blacklisted by Ankara and its western allies as a terrorist group, has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 that has killed tens of thousands.

The government jailed dozens of mayors and other HDP officials in the past year over the party's suspected links to the PKK, which it strongly denies.

A European Commission report in October found there was a "systemic lack of independence of the judiciary" in Turkey and that there is "political pressure on judges and prosecutors" to hand out pro-government verdicts.

Mr Erdogan's nationalist policies, a rise in cases of femicide and the stifling of independent media and social media all draw international concern, with a 2020 report from Human Right Watch on Turkey warning of a "deepening human rights crisis ... with a dramatic erosion of its rule of law and democracy framework".

A notoriously thin-skinned leader, Mr Erdogan filed a lawsuit against main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) member Ozgur Ozel on Monday, after he referred to him as a “poor excuse for a dictator" in a parliamentary speech last week.

"Our people will send back this Franco-want-to-be, poor excuse for a dictator in the next polls," Mr Ozel said on Friday, referring to former Spanish dictator Gen Francisco Franco.

A frequent vocal critic of the government, Mr Ozel is being sued by Mr Erdogan for 250,000 Turkish lira ($32,540) in non-pecuniary damages on the grounds of insulting the president.

Cases against Guven's party, the left-wing HDP, which is parliament's second-largest opposition group, suggest the authorities bring criminal prosecutions and use detention in bad faith and for political purposes.

The HDP said the hostile verdict against Guven was aimed at "all Kurds and the entire opposition".

"Leyla Guven is a person of struggle who dedicated her life to peace. She is a monument of honour," the party said.

Both the party's former co-chairs, including Selahattin Demirtas – who ran against Erdogan in the 2018 presidential elections – are currently in jail.

Demirtas was convicted of disseminating terrorist propaganda and faces other terrorism-related charges.

The targeting of human rights defenders also increased. In June, a trial against businessman and civic leader Osman Kavala opened.

On Friday, accused of involvement in a failed coup four years ago, Mr Kavala in court denied accusations of espionage and attempting to overthrow the government, saying that he opposes all efforts to take over power by force.

Several human rights groups called for his immediate release and for all charges against him to be dropped, insisting that there is no evidence to support the accusations.

Mr Kavala, 63, was acquitted earlier this year of terrorism-related charges for allegedly organising and financing mass anti-government protests that erupted in 2013. But as his supporters awaited his release from prison, authorities issued a warrant for his re-arrest, this time accusing him of links to a failed coup attempt in 2016.

The businessman faces a life term in prison if found guilty of the charge of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, and another 20 years for alleged “military and political espionage” against Turkey. Mr Kavala denies the charges.

Academic Henri Barkey, who lives in the United States and was also charged in the case, is being tried in his absence.

Updated: December 22, 2020 02:00 PM

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