Turkey’s Interior Ministry presses charges against main opposition leader Kılıçdaroğlu

The Turkish Interior Ministry has pressed charges against the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for calling several governors “militant,” state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Friday.

The ministry filed its complaint at the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office over Kılıçdaroğlu’s speech at a group meeting in Parliament where the CHP leader defended one of his colleagues in the party.

Former CHP lawmaker Berhan Şimşek had said, “Governors are militant, district governors are militant, judges are militant. We see what decisions they make,” while discussing the Constitutional Court at a televised debate last week.

The ministry then pressed charges against Şimşek for insulting public officials, followed by the governor of eastern Van province. Following backlash from the Interior Ministry and other government officials, Kılıçdaroğlu said the ministry had urged all governors to press charges in a notice it sent out to all provinces, and added: “If you don’t press charges, you have no honour. You are all militants. You are all militants for corruption and immorality.”

Speaking after a meeting with Ali Babacan, former minister and current leader of the opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), Kılıçdaroğlu defended his and Şimşek’s comments.

“Militant means a person who fights for a certain ideology. What we mean by our comments is that the state should be neutral towards its citizens,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. “If you make public servants into members of the ruling party, you’d make militants out of them. They’d lose their neutrality.”

Shortly after the ministry pressed  charges against Kılıçdaroğlu, three CHP lawmakers announced their resignations from the party.

In a press conference held at parliament, now-independent deputy Mehmet Ali Çelebi said CHP had been “wavering when it comes to national matters,” news website Artı Gerçek reported. The other two deputies, Özcan Özel and Hüseyin Aksoy, didn’t speak at the time, but were accompanying Çelebi.

In a statement issued in December last year, Çelebi and Aksoy had criticised the CHP for supporting Kurdish-language education, seeking alliances with opposition parties, and having improved relations with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Çelebi spent three years in pre-trial detention as part of the Ergenekon trials, where hundreds of high-ranking military personnel, politicians, journalists and civil society figures were accused of attempting to overthrow the government, and was released in 2011. The former army officer was elected to parliament in the June 2018 elections.