[By John Tully] Imagine living in a country ruled by an autocrat who has jailed and detained tens of thousands of political opponents, including 200 elected officials and seven MPs from a legitimate political party, and disbanded 65 local councils and installed pliant puppets in their stead. All this has been made possible by trashing the rule of law, sacking tens of thousands of public servants, judges, magistrates, teachers, and academics, and replacing them with creatures of the ruling party.
This is the daily reality in Turkey, a state ruled with an iron hand by the corrupt autocrat, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, effectively president for life, and his misleadingly named Justice and Development Party (AKP).
On December 21, Erdogan’s puppet judges in the 9th high district court in Diyarbakir sentenced the former opposition MP Leyla Güven to 22 years and six months jail on 18 trumped-up counts of supporting terrorism.
Güven, who is a 55-year-old mother, has been described as “the embodiment of Kurdish women and the face of resistance in Turkey” for her uncompromising stance against Erdogan’s corruption and abuse of power.
She is co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress and was until stripped of her parliamentary immunity, an elected MP for the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which campaigns peacefully for democratic, progressive reforms for all the peoples of Turkey, and for Kurdish autonomy.
Leyla Güven is the living symbol of resistance, but she is one of many activists persecuted by the autocrat. Since 2017, 16,000 HDP members have been detained and 6000 imprisoned, including the party’s former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. HDP activist Sebahar Tuncel’s mordant quip that Turkish jails are “internment camps for Kurds” is no hyperbole.
One bright spot is the recent demand by the European Court for the immediate release of Selahattin Demirtas. The Court ruled that his continued detention attacks “the very core of the concept of a democratic society”. Demirtas’s real offence in Erdogan’s eyes is that the party he leads gained enough seats in the 2015 elections to deprive the Islamist AKP of its majority and forced it into coalition with smaller fascist parties. Erdogan also bristled at the HDP’s exposure of AKP collusion with ISIS during the siege of Kobane.
Demirtas faces a possible jail sentence of 142 years if found guilty by Erdogan’s judges.
Güven and Demirtas are very aware that international support can help them resist this cruelty. Six months ago, an international outcry secured Güven’s release after another court jailed her when the Turkish parliament removed her MP’s immunity from prosecution.
Erdogan has no moral right to strip Güven, Demirtas, and other HDP activists of their parliamentary immunity. The Australian parliament should follow the European Court and demand their immediate release and reinstatement as MPs.