Turkey prosecutors throw ‘kitchen sink’ at pro-Kurdish MP over social media posts

A Turkish court summary of proceedings to lift the immunities from prosecution of 25 pro-Kurdish deputies is now before Turkey’s parliament. It includes accusations of "making propaganda for a terrorist organization", "being a member of an organisation established to commit crimes" and "public incitement to hatred and enmity".

Among the accused parliamentarians is Garo Paylan, who represents the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) for the southeastern city of Diyarbakır.

Prosecutors are seeking to prove Paylan’s guilt through evidence including his addressing of an imprisoned co-chair of the HDP as "Dear Selahattin Demirtaş". Among other evidence to back the prosecution’s case is Paylan’s reaction to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appointment of a party loyalist to head Boğaziçi University, social media posts related to the nationwide Gezi Park protests of 2013, and a request for the courts to release philanthropist Osman Kavala from jail.

The European Union and human rights groups have heavily criticised a crackdown on the political opposition in Turkey and a new social media law that increases the government's control over the internet. Social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter must now set up representative offices in Turkey to answer judicial requests or face heavy fines and restrictions on their bandwidth.

Paylan's addressing of Demitaş in a formal sense, as well as HDP politicians Figen Yüksekdağ and Leyla Güven, was deemed an offence for "praising the crime and the criminal".

Erdoğan’s appointment of Melih Bulu as rector of Boğaziçi via a presidential decree in January sparked large-scale student protests in Istanbul and other major cities. It also provoked widespread criticism from academics and the political opposition, who accused Erdoğan of undermining the top university’s independence.

“They appointed a trustee rector to the Boğaziçi University. The future of a country cannot be bright if its universities are not free!” Paylan said in another allegedly incriminating social media post. “This small reign will be short. When the time comes, the universities will elect their rectors themselves again.”

Kavala has spent more than three years in jail charged with terror-related crimes, without a conviction, prompting calls by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to release him. The European Union and the United States have also condemned his detention, saying his rights to freedom have been violated.

"Osman Kavala is facing the judge today with a "sloppy" indictment,” Paylan said. “The persecution you have inflicted on him and his loved ones for three years is enough! Apologise to Osman Kavala and release him."

Paylan denies all charges against him and says the prosecution has deliberately enlarged its court filing because the evidence does not stand up.

“I have seen that there is no single concrete evidence to back such great claims. Because it is such an empty file, they have thrown the kitchen sink at it," he said.

Paylan said the charges against him amount to no more than character assassination.

“They are trying to create the perception that there is a big crime with this sleazy report. This is all because of the fear of losing power. It is an effort to break the motivation among the opposition bloc to end the "one man" regime,” he said.

“Turkey should urgently return to the parliamentary system. I consider this legal summary as a provocation.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was re-elected president in 2018 with vastly enhanced executive powers following a nationwide referendum marred by opposition allegations of vote-rigging. His political opponents accuse him of bypassing parliament through presidential decrees, undercutting the judiciary’s independence and of seeking to suppress all opposition to his rule.

Paylan is also being accused of inciting Kurdish protests seven years ago, which resulted in the deaths of 31 people after the security services intervened. He questioned why the charges against him were being brought now, accusing the judiciary of working at Erdoğan’s behest.

“Why did the judiciary wait seven years when there were so many "major crimes"? Because an instruction came from the Palace. The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor is working like a trustee appointed to parliament. What has been done is a blow to parliament and must be repulsed.”