*updated at 7:40 pm (CET)
In Turkey’s Kurdish-majority Diyarbakır (Amed) police attacked protesters and made two arrests at a rally held by political parties and civil society organisations against the mass raids by security forces in Kurdish-majority provinces on Tuesday, just 19 days before the country’s crucial elections.
A Kurdish woman shouting, “Revolt against injustices, revolt, revolt,” under police blockade during the protest in Diyarbakır stood out as a reflection of the oppression in the region.
Socialist activist Serhat Eren, who was arrested during protests against Tuesday’s mass detentions in Diyarbakır, has not been heard from for hours. The police department denies that Eren was detained, although CCTV footage shows otherwise, Umut Newspaper reported.
As the elections approach, the authorities are trying to neutralise the public’s right to information and the opposition, said lawyers gathered in front of courthouses in Diyarbakır and Ankara to protest the raid operation, which was conducted in relation to an investigation overseen by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Since the morning hours, social media has been alive with reactions to the raids. In addition to politicians, lawyers and rights defenders calling for the immediate release of the detainees, citizens raised concerns about fair elections, sharing their views that this operation is an act of government intimidation for fear of losing the elections.
The most striking detail about Turkish law enforcements’ Tuesday raids across several cities, was that the arrest warrants did not specify charges, said Mehmet Emin Aktar, former chairman of the Diyarbakır (Amed) Bar Association.
“They are in such a rush, they are acting so unreasonably and unlawfully that they don’t even formally show a reason for an accusation,” said Green Left Party parliamentary candidate Aktar.
“Süleyman Soylu had more people detained at once than he could gather at his own rally!” said jailed former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş in a message sent via his lawyers on Twitter, pointing to Turkey’s interior minister. “They will not be able to prevent the arrival of peace, prosperity and democracy,” he added.
Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) legislator Ahmet Şık told Artı Gerçek that many of the detained NGO representatives and lawyers were those who had been working to ensure election security, and with this operation the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) aimed to create an unsafe environment for upcoming elections.
According to the Diyarbakır Bar Association, at least 150 people have been detained in raids in 21 provinces on Tuesday, including journalists, politicians, artists and lawyers, and more detentions are expected since there are a total of 216 arrest warrants within the scope of the investigation.
“We have been going through a period in which basic rights and freedoms have been interfered in arbitrarily, human rights defenders, particularly lawyers, as well as professional and civil society organisation have been targeted by the judiciary and have been threatened with prison sentences,” the Bar Association said.
A confidentiality order and a ban on lawyer visits have been imposed on the case file. The Association called on Turkish officials to put an end to human rights violations and to immediately release the detainees.
The HDP said that Tuesday’s mass detentions indicate that the Turkish government, led by the AKP and its far-right ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is panicking in the run-up to the 14 May elections. Fearing an election defeat, the government attacks the HDP, civil society organisations and the opposition, the party said in a statement.
“This operation is one that aims to steal the ballot boxes and the will of the people. It is a clear intimidation and threat against the society and their political preferences,” it said.
It is no coincidence that the arrests target lawyers who are needed to ensure polling security on 14 May, journalists who are responsible for informing society, and politicians who struggle on the ground against the AKP, the HDP said.
The police detained the Association of Lawyers for Freedom’s (ÖHD) Diyarbakır branch co-chair and arrested several lawyers.
“We will not remain silent against this political targeting our association and our members during an election period,” ÖHD said in a statement on Twitter.
At least 25 members of ÖHD’s Diyarbakır branch are under custody. The organisation was cooperating with the HDP to take measures to ensure polling security on 14 May.
Journalists were also taken into custody in Diyarbakır, including an editor and a correspondent of Mezopotamya news agency and the editor-in-chief and publisher of the Yeni Yaşam newspaper. Politicians, including the HDP’s co-deputy head Özlem Gündüz and its central executive member Mahfuz Güleryüz, and artists from the Amed City Theatre were also detained.
The profile of those detained on Tuesday morning reveals Turkey’s systematic crackdown against Kurdish politicians, lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists and artists.
Abdurrahman Gök, a photo journalist under detention, was sentenced to more than a year in prison in 2022 over terrorist propaganda for publishing the photos of police killing Kemal Kurkut, a young art student, during Newroz celebrations in 2017.
Ahmet Kanbal, a reporter of Mezopotamya news, has been subject to numerous investigations for his reports. The latest investigation into Kanbal was related to the killing of a 53-year old father of eight children, who according to Turkish officials, was engaged in terrorist organisations.
Osman Akın, the editor-in-chief of the Yeni Yaşam daily, has also gone through several investigations and was sentenced to more than one year in prison in 2022 over terrorism propaganda. Along with the newspaper’s deputy editor Ferhat Çelik, Akın was investigated on charges of insulting the Turkish state for reports about Turkish President Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak.
Kadri Esen, the publisher of the Kurdish-language weekly Xwebûn, was also taken into custody. In 2022 Esen had been sentenced to one year and three months in prison for terrorist propaganda.
Beritan Canözer, a Jin News reporter, was also arrested. Canözer has been detained several times over the last four years.