HDP deputies say arrests aimed at blocking the party during referendum campaign

Ayhan Bilgen HDP Spokesperson

ISTANBUL – Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has said the detention and arrest of many HDP members could be part of a government plan to block and stigmatize the party’s activities ahead of the referendum on shifting Turkey to an executive presidential system.

The objections came on the same day as arrested HDP deputy İdris Baluken was released on probation in a case demanding an aggravated life sentence over alleged “links to terrorism.”

HDP spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen, who was briefly detained on Jan. 29, issued a press statement after his release and said the government was trying to prevent the party’s campaigning for a “no” vote in the upcoming referendum on charter amendments. Dozens of HDP deputies and members have been detained and arrested following the lifting of their parliamentary immunity in a vote last year.

“Perhaps all this was done because the presidential system calculations were made much earlier, and to block our work,” said Bilgen.

Bilgen was detained on Jan. 30 for the second time following a prosecutor’s appeal.

Fellow HDP deputy Altan Tan, who was also briefly detained on Jan. 28, said the detention of the party’s lawmakers was an attempt by the government to block the work of the HDP against the amendments and to persuade Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voters to opt for “yes.”

“Firstly, how can someone who goes to court every day defend themselves also conduct work on the referendum? Secondly, there is an alliance between the AKP and the MHP. But all polls currently show that at least half of the MHP’s constituency will vote ‘no’ in the referendum. These detentions are apparently being carried out to try to persuade the MHP voters,” said Tan.

Since the charter amendment package passed from the Turkish Parliament on Jan. 21, 11 HDP deputies have been detained, with some being released on the same day as they were detained.

Since the immunities of 138 MPs who had summaries of proceedings against their name were lifted last year, some 26 deputies of the 59-member HDP were detained. Twelve of those detained were arrested, including HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, and 14 of them being released.

In the latest release, Baluken was freed on probation in his first hearing on Jan. 30, as the court ruled that all evidence had been gathered and previous criteria set out by the Constitutional Court regarding the arrest of deputies had been taken into consideration.

A lawsuit has been filed against Baluken demanding he be given an aggravated life sentence, as well as up to 23 years in jail, over four separate charges, including having links to terrorism.

He was among 12 deputies detained on Nov. 4, 2016 after the release of Leyla Birlik, the second arrested HDP deputy.

UA-57178893-1