Turkey Must Promptly Investigate the Violent Attacks Against Opposition Figures

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FIDH is deeply concerned about the attack last week on the Izmir office of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), as well as the ongoing targeting of the party’s legitimate political activities and opposition politicians more broadly in Turkey. We urge the authorities in Turkey to conduct a prompt, thorough, effective, and independent investigation into the attack and ensure that opposition figures can freely and fully exercise their right to political representation without fear of attacks or reprisals, and with respect for political pluralism and the ideological diversity that are fundamental to healthy democracies.

On 17 June 2021, around 11:00 AM, an armed man raided the HDP office in Konak district of İzmir, Turkey, killing a party employee. The aggressor was taken into custody on the same day, and the competent Peace Judgeship in İzmir ordered his detention the following day. It was revealed by the press that the aggressor had previously posted several armed pictures of him from multiple locations in Turkey and Syria, accompanied by hateful messages, on his social media accounts. [1]

This worrying attack took place against the backdrop of an increasingly hostile political climate and the ongoing public stigmatisation and targeting of political opponents, including the HDP, by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). [2] These, in turn, legitimise hate speech and violence against opposition politicians and all dissenting voices in Turkey, and fuel impunity for crimes committed against them. Indeed, violent attacks and threats against opposition politicians have increased in recent years. [3] In 2019, the leader of the main opposition party, Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, was attacked by a group, near Ankara, during the funeral of a soldier. Most recently, in May 2021, the leader of the Good (İYİ) Party, Meral Akşener, was verbally attacked by AKP supporters in Rize and a brawl erupted among the crowd. The President later described the incident as a “good lesson” for her and said “these are your [her] good days”.

In this political climate, the case before Turkey’s Constitutional Court requesting the dissolution of HDP and a ban of its 687 members from politics, filed by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Cassation on 18 March 2021, remains pending. On 21 June 2021, the indictment against HDP was admitted by the Court. Meanwhile, Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a former HDP MP and a human rights defender, was stripped of his parliamentary seat after being convicted to two years and six months in prison for “terrorist propaganda” for his social media posts in 2016. [4] He was detained on 2 April 2021 to serve the sentence and still remains in jail. [5] Furthermore, numerous HDP members, including its former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Pervin Buldan, remain in arbitrary detention, despite a landmark judgment [6] in December 2020 by the European Court of Human Rights ruling that Demirtaş’s detention violates his fundamental rights to liberty, to freedom of expression and to free and fair elections under the Convention. [7] Across Turkey, in at least 54 municipalities, democratically elected HDP mayors were dismissed and replaced by government-appointed trustees since the latest local elections in March 2019. [8]

FIDH strongly condemns the violent attacks against democratically elected representatives and political opponents and is concerned about the ongoing harassment – including at the judicial level – of opposition figures and continued attempts by the government to obstruct their legitimate political activities, undermine their right to political representation, and strip them of their immunity and positions. We also deplore the authorities’ failure to promptly, thoroughly, independently and effectively investigate and prosecute previous attacks against political opponents. This contributes to stigmatising the opposition and legitimising violence, both verbal and physical, against political representatives and all dissenting voices in the country.

These developments must be read in the context of a progressive erosion of the rule of law and human rights, and increased attacks against civil society and political opponents in Turkey, which threaten Turkey’s democratic foundations and breaches its international obligations.

FIDH urges the Government of Turkey:

  • To promptly, effectively, independently, and thoroughly investigate the recent attack against the HDP office and other credible threats against political opponents, including HDP, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice;
  • To immediately halt the ongoing discrediting and public stigmatisation of political opponents and publicly condemn all attempts at further discriminating them by both State and non-State actors;
  • To ensure an enabling, safe and democratic environment for the effective exercise of the right to political participation and representation, in which elected politicians, and citizens more broadly, can exercise their political activities without hindrance or fear of attacks, both physical and verbal, and by both State and non-State actors;
  • To ensure the right to freedom of expression and opinion for everyone in Turkey, including in the context of the exercise by the opposition of their right to political representation; to halt the judicial harassment on this ground of all political opponents – including HDP representatives –, human rights defenders, civil society actors and all dissenting voices; and to immediately release those who are detained on politically motivated criminal charges based on proceedings disregarding their right to due process;
  • To ensure at all times respect for their international obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, which require respect for the right to freedom of expression and opinion, the right to political representation and participation and the right to be protected from discrimination and violence by both State and non-State actors.
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