ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey’s main human rights organization on Tuesday condemned the arrest of Kurdish political leaders and gave a warning of rising temperatures in the country’s political climate. Akin Birdal–head of the Human Rights Association–linked the jailing of seven leaders of the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) to a recent court ban on the Islam-based Welfare Party as part of systematic pressures on political parties.
"As shocking as they are from a human rights perspective–the recent pressures on our political parties are also paving the way for damage hard to repair," Birdal said in a written statement.
An Ankara court on Monday ordered seven HADEP leaders be held in jail pending trial on charges of "membership in a separatist organization," a euphemism for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party rebel group.
The charge carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence.
Leading party members were first detained by police in the capital last week as part of an investigation into a 1998 party calendar alleged to promote separatism.
Detention orders are out for some 50 other party officials. In the heavily Kurdish eastern town of Tunceli–police took up positions around the local HADEP office but made no immediate move to intervene–witnesses said.
The constitutional court last month ordered the closure of the Islamist Welfare Party–Turkey’s biggest political faction–and banned its leaders from political activity for violating the country’s secularist constitution.
The decision–expected to take effect this week upon publication in the official gazette–will leave the majority Welfare deputies in parliament with no party affiliation.
The European Union decried the decision to ban Welfare as worrying for the future of democratic pluralism in Turkey.
Rights concerns were cited by the EU last month as one of the main reasons why an application by Turkey to join the community was put on hold.
Turkey banned another Kurdish party in 1994 and jailed eight Kurd Parliament members for ties to the guerrillas–fighting for self-rule in the mountainous southeast.
HADEP made a strong showing in the mainly Kurdish areas in 1995 polls but failed to surpass the 10 percent national barrier required to send members of parliament to parliament. As a result–many of those seats went to the Welfare Party.