HDP accuses AKP of using pandemic to grab power

The Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) accused Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of using the extraordinary circumstances created by the coronavirus outbreak as a pretext to consolidate power further, T24 news portal reported on Tuesday.

HDP spokesman Saruhan Oluc, speaking during an online meeting with reporters, said that similar to Hungary and Poland, Turkey was heading toward authoritarian rule, with some significant steps taken by the ruling party going under the radar due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just like how they took steps to grab more power after the July 15 [2016 coup attempt], they regard this event as a God-given grace,” Oluc said.

Pointing out to the prisoner release bill voted in the parliament before hiatus, Oluc underlined that some articles in the bill would lead to censorship on social media and other digital platforms, had they not been removed as a result of strong reaction from the opposition.

“There are articles [in the latest bill] that give authorities powers to blacklist civil society organizations. They attempted to pass these bills months ago but had retracted them then. Now they became law,” lamented Oluc, and carried on, “the latest bill also included a ban on strikes. It went unnoticed at first, but they wanted a ban on all strikes. It also died due to opposition’s reaction.”

Adding that the country is already experiencing one-man rule in practice, Oluc argued that attempts to overpower the legislative branch were being made.

“Articles pertaining to the magistracy of execution is an example. Something all governments since 1982 tried to achieve was done just like that with a bill,” Oluc stated, pointing out to the articles that give sweeping powers to judges of execution on the course of inmates’ prison terms.

“They have enacted articles to enable intelligence units to interrogate the prisoners legally,” said Oluc, emphasizing the controversial regulation that gives the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) “force majeure” to take those charged with or convicted on terrorism offenses out of prisons in order to question them.

Last week Turkey’s parliament passed a law that would allow the release of tens of thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding in jails and protect detainees from the coronavirus.

Critics slammed the bill for excluding those jailed on terrorism charges.

The law opened the way for the temporary release of around 45,000 prisoners to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Opposition parties and activists have criticized the law for excluding those jailed on terrorism charges, which include journalists and politicians swept up in a crackdown following a coup attempt in 2016.

Turkey has arrested thousands of academics, lawyers, journalists, civil servants, and members of the military it says were supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkish authorities blame him and his supporters for the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement.

Many Kurdish activists and politicians the state says have links to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are also in jail.

Engin Ozkoc, a parliamentarian from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the party would challenge the new law in Turkey’s highest court, the Constitutional Court.

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