ANKARA (Hurriyet)–Turkey’s Constitutional Court late Friday delivered a landmark ruling, banning the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) for alleged links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The decision to close down the DTP was made unanimously after deliberations that began Tuesday, said the court’s president, Hasim Kilic, speaking to the press as he announced the final verdict.
“It has been decided the DTP will be closed under Articles 68 and 69 of the Constitution and the Political Parties Law given that actions and statements made by the party became a focal point for terrorism against the indivisible integrity of the state,” Kilic said.
The party’s founders including party leader Ahmet Turk as well as Aysel Tugluk, Nurettin Demirtaş, Leyla Zana and Selim Sadak were banned from politics for five years, he said. They will be unable to found, join, administer or supervise any other political party during their ban.
The ban on the four-year-old party could escalate tension with the Kurds, who make up about 20 per cent of Turkey’s population of more than 70 million.
The government recently announced steps to reconcile with Kurds by expanding greater cultural rights in an effort to end the conflict that has led to the disappearance and death of thousands of Kurds.
Those steps, which include cosmetic reforms and pledges for equality, have been criticized by Turkey’s Kurds as hollow. Kurdish politicians insisted the government should engage in open dialogue with Kurds for a realistic solution.
Turkey is also engaged in a struggling bid to join the European Union, which has said Turkish laws that allow the banning of political parties are incompatible with European conventions on rights to freedom of assembly.
“Turkey can’t solve this problem by shutting parties, but through common logic,” said Turk, whose refusal to call the PKK a terrorist group angered the government. “Despite all of this, Turkey will one day embrace peace. Our hope is that this process does not take too long.”
“My struggle will not end with the closure of the party,” he added.
In addition, Turk and Tugluk will be removed from their seats in Parliament as soon as the verdict is published in the Official Gazette. All of the party’s assets will be transferred to the Treasury, according to the ruling.
Kilic rebuked the criticism related to the timing of the ruling while the government-led initiative to tame the country’s beleaguered Kurdish population is being debated in the country. “This case has lasted for more than two years. We have never made evaluations or opinions related to the democratization process,” he said.
Kilic made clear that a political party has no right to resort to actions or statements in favor of terror and violence. “A political party has to make a distinction between pro-terror and peaceful messages,” Kilic said. “The European Court of Human Rights is clear on this point.”
He said a political party that attempts to legitimize terror and violence is against the relevant conventions. “If they don’t act in this line, they have no right to suggest improvements for society.”
The 11-member top court began hearing the closure case early Tuesday. The court assessed the 141-item list of accusations submitted by Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Yalcinkaya filed a lawsuit at the court demanding the party’s closure on Nov. 16, 2007. In his submission, he alleged the DTP had become a focal point of separatist actions and that it maintained links to the PKK, a breach of the law on political parties.
The PKK has been fighting for equal rights and liberation in the southeast since 1984. Turkey characterizes their struggle for freedom as terrorism and has dealt with it as such, clamping down on the country’s Turkish population and using military force and counter-insurgency techniques to destroy the PKK.
The top court considered the list submitted by Yalcinkaya and the DTP’s defense against the accusations. As part of the deliberations, the court also examined speeches made by the party’s administrative team at rallies and in Parliament.
The banned members of the DTP include Abdulkadir Fırat, Abdullah İsnaç, Ahmet Ay, Ahmet Ertak, Ahmet Türk, Ali Bozan, Ayhan Ayaz Aydın Budak, Ayhan Karabulut, Aysel Tuğluk, Bedri Fırat, Cemal Kuhak, Deniz Yeşilyurt, Ferhan Türk, Fettah Dadaş, Hacı Üzen, Halit Kahraman, Hatice Adıbelli, Hüseyin Bektaşoğlu, Hüseyin Kalkan, İzzet Belge, Kemal Aktaş, Leyla Zana, Mehmet Veysi Dilekçi, Metin Tekçe, Murat Avcı, Murat Taş, Musa Farisoğlulları, Necdet Atalayı, Nurettin Demirtaş and Selim Sadak
Kurds Clash with Police
Hours after the verdict was announced, Kurdish protesters took to the streets in at least three mainly Kurdish towns and hurled stones and fireworks at police who responded with pressurized water and pepper gas, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
In the town of Silvan, hundreds of Kurdish youths, their faces covered with scarves, burned tires and pelted police with rocks, Dogan news agency footage showed. Police in riot gear and gas masks fired pepper gas canisters to disperse the crowds.
The court has shut down several Kurdish party on similar charges in the past. The predecessor of the Democratic Society Party had dissolved itself in 2005. The party is the 27th to be shut down in Turkey since 1968.
Kurdish youth had been staging streets protests over the past few weeks to denounce the Constitutional Court to shut down the country’s only Kurdish party.
Hundreds of Kurds clashed with police on December 10 in Turkey’s south-eastern city of van, hurling stones, firebombs and fireworks. There were no immediate reports of injuries, the Associated Press reported.
Police retaliated with pepper gas in an effort to disperse crowds and detained 25 protesters, the Anatolia news agency said. Four police officers and two protesters were slightly injured during the incidents, it said.
One Kurdish student was killed from gunshot wounds in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir while another died December 7 of severe burns from a firebomb attack by Kurdish militants on a city bus in Istanbul.
Kurdish Party Offices Attacked
Police in Turkey reported on December 9 that three provincial offices belonging to Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) have been attacked by gunfire and bombings, the Turkish Hurriyet Daily reported.
The first office, located in the town of Kecioren in Ankara province, was fired at late Tuesday night. the police who investigated the incident found 10 bullets had been fired at the building, shattering several of its windows.
Meanwhile, that same morning, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the DTP offices in Kizilay, also in the Ankara province. Fire fighters arrived on the crime scene shortly after the attack.
A Molotov cocktail was also thrown at the building housing the DTP’s provincial and district offices in the province of Hatay. Police later found seven more Molotov cocktails near the building.
The attacks occurred after the first day of hearings of the DTP closure case.
Turkey’s History of Banning Parties
The Constitutional Court, charged with upholding Turkey’s secular constitution, has a long history of banning political parties which it deems a threat, and even came close to banning the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party in 2008.
It has banned almost 20 parties since the adoption of a military-inspired constitution in 1982, two years after a military coup. Pro-Kurdish and Islamist-leaning parties have been a particular focus of its attention but members of banned parties have typically regrouped under a new name.
Turkey’s Political Parties Act has been heavily criticized by the European Union, which Turkey aims to join.
Here are details of some major party closure cases:
2008 – AK Party — The court narrowly rejected a case to shut down the ruling party, in power since 2002, but found it guilty of anti-secular activities and imposed financial penalties. The AK Party’s anti-secular offences were not serious enough to merit closure, it said. Six of the judges voted to shut the party, one short of the number necessary for closure.
2003 – People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) — The court outlawed HADEP ruling it had close links to the PKK. The court found that HADEP had “aided and abetted a terrorist organization”, a reference to the PKK.
2001 – Virtue Party FP — The Islam-based group and the main opposition party with 102 of 550 seats was shut down on charges it was a hotbed of Islamist and anti-secular activities. The court expelled two members from parliament and imposed political bans on five more.
1998 – Islamist Welfare Party (RP) — The party was banned in January of 1998 and its leader and former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan and other key members were banned from holding political posts for five years. In February the court froze the party’s accounts and parliament sought to try Erbakan for alleged violation of public order laws. A nascent Islam-based group, the Virtue Party rapidly attracted deputies from Welfare.
1993 – People’s Labour Party (HEP) — The constitutional court banned the pro-Kurdish HEP, and ordered four of its deputies to leave parliament. The court found some of the speeches by HEP’s former leader Fehmi Isiklar and actions of the party itself violated Turkey’s constitution. At the time HEP had 16 deputies in parliament.
1992 – Socialist Party — The Constitutional Court ordered the closure of the Socialist Party, accused of acting against the integrity of the country. It also ordered the party’s assets transferred to the Treasury.