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Turkey detains fourteen from pro-Kurdish opposition over party congress

Fourteen members of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been detained after pictures of the leader of a banned organization were displayed during a slideshow at a party congress.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office said 15 HDP members were being investigated as they were responsible for the preparation of a slideshow at the party congress, in which images of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), were shown.

All but one of the 15 were detained and according to the statement, police were looking for the missing one.

The 14 detained were being questioned at the Ankara Police Department.

At its fourth ordinary congress on Sunday, the HDP delegates elected lawmakers Mithat Sancar and Pervin Buldan as the party’s co-chairs.

During the congress in the capital Ankara, the slides showed the photos of Ocalan.

There was no immediate comment on the detentions from the pro-Kurdish party.

The probe followed a remark by Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which is an ally of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

On Tuesday, Bahceli called on the Turkish prosecutors to launch an investigation into the HDP Congress, saying, “They [the HDP members] are all on the same dark road. The People’s Alliance [AKP and MHP] is the public’s will against them [the HDP].”

The Peoples Alliance was formed between the AKP and the MHP during the presidential election in 2017 after the country changed from a parliamentary system into an executive presidential system, which has given Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping powers.

Ocalan has been held in solitary confinement in Imrali, an island prison in the Marmara Sea since he was captured by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) with the support of the CIA in Nairobi in 1999.

Ocalan was first sentenced to death. However, the sentence was later postponed by the then-coalition government in which the MHP was included.

Later in 2002, when the AKP initiated reforms as part of its bid for Turkey to become a member of the European Union (EU), the MHP campaigned against the reforms, which abolished capital punishment, lifted restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language and swept away constraints on free speech.

Until their forming of the Peoples Alliance in 2017, the two parties accused each other of saving Ocalan from the executioner.

Founded by Ocalan, the PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, fighting for self-rule in the predominantly Kurdish region southeast of Turkey since the 1980s.

In 2012, the AKP government-initiated peace talks, dubbed “solution process”, in which the PKK leader played an essential role.

In the June 2015 elections, the HDP played a role in the defeat of the AKP which lost its parliamentary majority. Meanwhile, the HDP managed to pass the 10 percent electoral threshold for the first time in its history and gained representation in the parliament.

During the coalition talks led by the AKP, two police officers were killed in their house in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa’s Ceylanpinar district, an act putting an end to the ceasefire as the AKP blamed the PKK for the attack.

The coalition negotiations failed amid the increasing nationalist atmosphere as well as a months-long military campaign against the PKK.

Eventually, the general elections held again in November saw the AKP reclaiming its parliamentary majority, while the HDP lost more than 20% of its votes.

Further, the July 2016 coup attempt gave the AKP government the pretext to impose more crackdown on the pro-Kurdish party via state of emergency decrees declared following the failed coup.

Months into the emergency rule, the Turkish courts jailed Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, then co-chairs of the party.

Out of 65 HDP mayors who won their offices through democratic elections in March 2019, authorities replaced 32 with state-appointed trustees, jailing 23 of them on terror-related offenses.

The Erdogan regime has long accused the HDP of having links to the PKK.

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