Kurdish minority representatives the latest targets of Turkey's unending crackdown
Conditions for civic activism are rapidly deteriorating in Turkey as the authorities move to prevent all dissent. In its latest moves, the Turkish government has shut down social media, closed more media houses, fired thousands of civil servants and arrested opposition politicians.
Early on the morning of 4th November, security forces arrested at least 10 members of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). Their arrest on charges of failing to comply with a counter-terrorism investigation comes after months of harassment from Turkish authorities. The HDP has been accused of having links of the internationally proscribed terrorist organisation the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and is the third largest party in the Turkish parliament, in addition to being the primary political representative of Turkey's Kurdish minority. Many fear that the systematic removal of vocal opposition illustrates the continuing consolidation of power by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The European Union's Turkey Rapporteur, Kati Piri has been quick to criticise the arrest of the HDP politicians on Twitter.
Many had feared that the persecution of opposition political activists was looming after a bill was passed on 20th May stripping politicians of immunity from prosecution. At the time, leading representatives from the HDP claimed that the bill was a thinly veiled attempt by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to purge the Turkish parliament of viable opposition in order to push through a constitution formally establishing a presidential system. The latest arrests come as the crackdown on political activism in southeastern Turkey has intensified. As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, the removal of 28 municipal mayors in predominantly Kurdish towns, signaled the intensification of a well-orchestrated clampdown on Kurdish political activism as well as democratic institutions and civic space.
Reports from the ground in Turkey on 4th November note that there is a total blackout on social media messaging platform WhatsApp in the wake of the arrests of HDP politicians. Other platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have also been obstructed.
— Turkey Blocks (@TurkeyBlocks) November 3, 2016
Southeastern Turkey experienced intermittent access to the internet throughout late October. On 26th October, a full internet shutdown lasted almost 12 hours and affected Diyarbakır, Mardin, Batman, Siirt, Van, Elazığ, Tunceli, Gaziantep, Şanlıfurfa, Kilis and Adıyaman, making reporting on events from these areas extremely difficult. A second full internet shutdown on 27th October cut off the internet to 6 million citizens in Turkey’s Southeast regions, with people being force to drive hundreds of kilometers to gain internet access. Many believe that the internet blackouts were a reaction to the violent protests which flared after the detention of the co-mayors of Diyarbakır province on 25th October.
On 30th October, Turkish authorities dismissed another 10,000 civil servants and closed 15 more media outlets over suspected links with 'terrorist organisations' and US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed by Turkish authorities for orchestrating the failed coup in July 2016.
Further updates on this developing situation in Turkey will be posted on the CIVICUS Monitor in the coming days.