ISTANBUL - A crackdown on Turkey's main pro-Kurdish political party appears to be broadening following Friday's detention of a leading member of the country's human rights movement. The arrest comes in the face of growing concern from Turkey's western allies.
Ozturk Turkdogan, co-chair of Turkey's Human Rights Association (IHD), was arrested in an early morning raid by anti-terror police and then released later in the day under a judicial control, according to Turkey's Human Rights Association. The detention drew swift condemnation nationally and internationally.
"Outrageous. This is an attack on Turkey's oldest human rights group," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“He [Turkdogan] is a very respected figure in the human rights movement and an old friend, a lawyer. It is an outrageous attack on all of Turkish civil society to arrest Turkdogan," added Sinclair-Webb.
No details have been released on why Turkdogan was detained, other than that he was being held under Turkey's wide-ranging anti-terror legislation. Under the law, Turkdogan is denied access to a lawyer for the first 24 hours of detention.
This month, the Turkish interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, accused Turkdogan’s Human Rights Association of being linked to terrorism.
Meanwhile, Turkish security forces are carrying out a crackdown on Turkey's second largest opposition party, the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party [HDP].
On Friday, at least three HDP senior members were detained in dawn raids as part of a sweep targeting 35 people. On Wednesday, prosecutors opened a case against the HDP.
The HDP is accused of having links to the Kurdish separatist group the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish state. The United States and the European Union designate the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Wednesday also saw lawmakers vote to strip prominent HDP deputy Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his parliamentary immunity after he was convicted of spreading terrorist propaganda for a tweet.
Since 2019, 48 of the 65 elected HDP mayors in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish regions have been removed from office by the Interior Ministry, citing "terror" investigations.
Western allies concerned at crackdown
But Turkey's western allies are pushing back over the latest escalation in the crackdown on the HDP.
"We are also monitoring the initiation of efforts to dissolve the People's Democratic Party, a decision that would unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters, further undermine democracy in Turkey, and deny millions of Turkish citizens their chosen representation," said U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Smith on Thursday.
In a statement, the European Union said it was "deeply concerned," adding Turkey "needs to respect its core democratic obligations, including respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law."
The HDP closure case and the latest waves of arrests come weeks after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged a new era in human rights while unveiling his human rights action plan.
"It seems the human rights action plan is a code word for human rights violation plan," said Sinclair-Webb, "because everything that has happened since then has been worse and worse and the attacks on democracy."
Turkey has a long history of closing political parties, in particular those deemed pro-Kurdish. But the government rejects criticism over the current crackdown, insisting it’s fighting terrorism.
"It is an indisputable fact that HDP has organic ties to PKK," tweeted Wednesday Fahrettin Altun, Turkey's presidential communication director. The HDP denies any links to the PKK.
The German government appears receptive to Ankara's stance while calling for "Turkey to comply with the most stringent democratic rule-of-law." In a statement released Thursday it added, "We call on the HDP to clearly distance itself from the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization also in the EU."
Observers and human rights activists have accused European leaders and the EU of softening its criticism of Turkey's deteriorating human rights record.
Turkey and the EU are currently discussing the renewal of a refugee deal that sees Ankara act as Europe's gatekeeper in controlling migrants and refugees in exchange for billions of dollars in aid.
"It's the biggest leverage Turkey has," said Sezin Oney, a columnist for Turkey's Duvar news portal. "Because of the refugee deal, European countries, in a way, lack any kind of pressure or any kind of leverage they might have over Ankara."
Next week European leaders are due to discuss Turkey at an EU summit, but it’s predicted calls for a tough stance against Ankara by some members will be ignored.
With Turkey's EU membership bid is frozen, Sinan Ulgen, head of the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics & Foreign Policy Studies, says any inaction by Brussels is mostly because it has little political influence.
"The refugee deal is a factor that lowers the level of criticism in the EU about Turkey's track record in democratic and fundamental rights. But the other factor is that the EU now has very little leverage on Turkey, given that there are very few avenues of positive engagement," said Ulgen.