Semra Güzel, a lawmaker from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has remained defiant after her highly publicised arrest on terror charges on Friday, HDP officials said.
When Güzel was arrested in Silivri, a district on the outskirts of Istanbul, pro-government media sources reported that she was attempting to flee the country, and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu tweeted that she had been caught with a false passport in the same car as a human trafficker.
But Güzel’s HDP colleagues and lawyers said the charges were false and the arrest had been co-ordinated by Soylu and pro-government journalists to play out as a media spectacle.
Saruhan Oluç, the co-leader of the HDP’s parliamentary group, described how party officials who accompanied Güzel to the court where she was questioned had only received official news of her arrest some hours after the media had reported it.
This is because Soylu stage-managed the arrest, and the police’s rough manhandling of the HDP deputy as she was taken to the courthouse, said Oluç.
“Step by step, they’re creating this scenario, and the author of it all is Süleyman Soylu,” Oluç said. “They’ve got the cameras ready and given the officers their mission … to manhandle Güzel by the back of her neck and break her spirit as they brought her to court.”
Despite the rough manner of her arrest, Güzel has refused to be bowed and instead delivered a message of defiance from the court, said Oluç.
“They got the press ready and expected me to bow my head, but I didn’t,” Oluç quoted Güzel as saying.
The Kurdish lawmaker’s arrest came after a March vote to strip her of parliamentary immunity to prosecution over a photograph showing Güzel with a fighter from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Güzel explained that the man in the photos was her fiancée who had later been killed in a clash with Turkish forces. The photographs had been taken before she was elected.
Ankara considers the PKK a terrorist organisation, but in 2014, when the photograph was taken, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had launched a peace process with the Kurdish group and actively engaged in talks with its officials.
The peace talks broke down in 2015, and since that year the AKP has doubled down on its repression of the Kurdish political movement. The AKP government has started legal proceedings against thousands of HDP members.
Since a 2016 vote allowed parliament to strip deputies of their immunity, the law has been used almost exclusively to prosecute HDP MPs, with 13 so far stripped of their parliamentary seats and several, including former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, handed jail sentences on terror charges.
“They have conducted an investigation that they tried to fill with testimonies of anonymous witnesses as well as certain photographs,” Güzel said in her testimony at court. “I am not the only person being prosecuted because of those photographs. Others have been prosecuted without being arrested,” she said.
The lawmaker said the government was in fact trying to put the HDP on trial over accusations against her. When the indictment against Güzel was delivered to the Turkish parliament in January, the government-affiliated Yeni Şafak newspaper came out with a headline which read: ‘There are 18 more Semra Güzels in the parliament.’ Later the lifting of Güzel’s parliamentary immunity was included as additional evidence by Turkey’s Constitutional Court in a case file that seeks to shut down the HDP and to ban 451 of its top tier party members from engaging in politics.
“I see this as an attempt at election propaganda,” she said, pointing to Turkey’s upcoming elections, currently scheduled for 2023, in which Kurdish votes will be pivotal for a possible change of power in Turkey.
When he broke the news about Güzel’s arrest on Twitter, Soylu called her a member of HDPKK, an abbreviation government officials and government-affiliated media continuously use to equate the HDP with the PKK.
Moreover, Soylu started his tweet by calling out Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), saying he had some upsetting news for Kılıçdaroğlu.
The HDP has not joined an election alliance formed by six opposition parties led by the CHP but instead last month established an alliance with other left-wing parties. Yet the government frequently displays the HDP as a secret supporter of the CHP-led alliance and accuse CHP of cooperating with the HDP.
The HDP in a statement on Saturday called the manner of Güzel’s arrest unethical and accused the government of using Güzel as propaganda material.
Remziye Tosun, an HDP lawmaker representing the southeastern province of Diyarbakır (Amed) said on Twitter on Sunday that the attacks and the lynching campaign against Güzel were targeting the Kurdish people.
Güzel is accused of membership of a terrorist organisation and financing terrorism. But her lawyer, Veysi Eski, said the questioning after her arrest had gone far beyond the subjects on her charge sheet.
“We told them that if they thought a new crime had been committed, they would need to prepare a new charge sheet for our client and then question her,” Eski said. “But the prosecutor disregarded our objections and asked her anyway.”
The widely publicised, heavy-handed and lawless treatment of a member of parliament is designed to send a message to the public that recalls the 1990s, a period when state repression of Kurds was at its height, said HDP deputy chair Serhat Eren.
“They’ve made a conscious effort to publicise these images,” said Eren. “We know these images already from the 90s, another time when Kurdish politicians were dragged out of parliament.”