Turkey expels three opposition MPs, arrests them on terrorism charges

Turkey flag in Bosphorus and Sultanahmed Camii

With the courts upholding their convictions, three opposition MPs were arrested after they were stripped of their parliamentary immunity.  Their expulsion was announced during the parliamentary session on Thursday and all three were arrested on the same day. Leyla Güven and Musa Farisoğulları from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were arrested in Diyarbakir while Enis Berberoğlu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was arrested in Istanbul.

While the HDP leaders were charged and convicted for close links with the banned Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), Berberoğlu is a journalist who was sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison for sharing a video that showed the National Intelligence Agency supplying weapons to Syrian rebels in 2014. Ever since the failed 2016 coup, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has been frequently using emergency powers and anti-terrorism laws to crackdown on detractors.

Opposition parties and civil society actors in the country have criticised the latest move as one that will weaken democracy and further entrench the autocratic powers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Opposition MPs shouted slogans calling the ruling government fascist, “putschist,” and “the enemy of democracy”. They say it is an effort to shift the public’s focus away from the economic woes and rising unemployment in the country.

The arrests, particularly those targeting the HDP, is seen to be strategic. The party had recently asked for an account of the government’s expenses in the war in Libya and warned that it should concentrate more on the domestic troubles. Cornering the pro-Kurdish party like this is expected to push it to take a more hardline approach that would make allying with it in the electoral battlefield unappealing to other parties.

In view of the government’s falling popularity with the public, political observers are expecting that it would call a snap election in order to hold on to its 18-year-old rule. Seen in this light, these arrests have probably been made in order to weaken opposition forces and stop them from coming together against the ruling party, according to analysts. In fact, just prior to this, there was a plan by the members of the opposition to start a campaign across Turkey’s hardest-hit cities in order to reach out to the public and listen to their views.

The move has been seen as a precursor to possible snap elections, in which the ruling party hopes to contest a weakened opposition.

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