Turkish authorities have arrested a district mayor from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) over his alleged connection to an outlawed network, a move condemned by party members as anti-democratic.
Burak Oguz, the mayor of Urla district in Turkey’s third-largest city Izmir, was arrested late on Monday on a charge of membership in a terrorist organization, a prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.
The first head of a CHP-run municipality to be arrested since March’s local polls, Oguz was accused of being a member of the faith-based Gulen movement that Ankara claims masterminded a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Ankara views the movement led by the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen as a terrorist organization and has cracked down on its real and suspected members since 2016’s abortive putsch attempt.
Over 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial, and nearly 150,000 civil servants, military personnel, and others have been sacked or suspended from their jobs in Turkey over coup related charges in the three years since the attempt.
Although both Gulen and his followers strongly deny the allegations against them, operations targeting supporters of the faith-based movement are still a routine in Turkey.
Commenting on the mayor’s arrest during a television program on Tuesday, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu argued that incidents like this continue to take place in Turkey because of the ruling AK Party (AKP) government that lacks democratic values.
“If people [in Turkey] cannot express their ideas freely in the 21st century if they are imprisoned for it, and their houses are raided very early in the morning for it, then you’re not doing things right,” Kilicdaroglu said, addressing the authorities.
Kilicdaroglu further argued that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acts as if he is a “Pharaoh.”
“That’s right, [he acts like] he is the Pharaoh of the 21st century in Turkey. He claims that he knows everything and that he can do anything that he wants,” he elaborated.
The main opposition leader went on to say that he will call the Turkish president to account for his actions.
“What you’re doing is wrong, and I have an obligation to openly state that,” he added.
CHP’s Izmir provincial organization on Tuesday held a news conference to express their criticism of AKP’s latest move to arrest the city’s mayor for the Urla district.
Rejecting accusations that Oguz is a member of the Gulen movement, Deniz Yucel, head of the CHP’s Izmir provincial group, added in the statement that the decision to arrest the mayor was as a “major blow to democracy in Turkey.”
The main opposition party’s spokesman Faik Oztrak said arresting a mayor who came into office after winning 67 percent of the vote is “equal to disregarding people’s will.”
“We have always argued that those who take office through elections should leave their posts through elections. We have never thought that it was right to dismiss people [mayors] before they were convicted of the crimes they are accused of,” Oztrak stressed.
The spokesman was also referring to the dozens of co-mayors from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) who were removed from their offices over alleged links to the outlawed Kurdish militants in Turkey with many of them also being arrested pending trial.
Meanwhile, Sevda Erdan Kilic and Murat Bakan, CHP lawmakers from Izmir, on Tuesday visited mayor Oguz at the Buca Kiriklar F Type Prison where he is being held.
They told reporters that Oguz said he “has nothing to do with the accusation that he faces.”
“He told us that the only organization that he is a member of is the Republican People’s Party and that he would be acquitted from those baseless [terror] charges as soon as possible and be reunited with his loved ones,” Kilic and Bakan also said.