From: Julie Ward,
43-44 Gladstone Terrace,
Bishop Auckland
DL13 4LS


October 21st, 2020

Dear Lisa

I am writing to you, as a human rights defender and former Labour MEP for the North West, regarding the latest mass arrests of members of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s third-biggest party which champions the same values of democracy, social justice and equality as we hold dear in the Labour Party.

On September 25th the Turkish authorities issued arrest warrants for 82 people, including former mayors and MPs of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the party’s current Central Executive Board. A further 17 HDP politicians were arrested on October 2nd. They are reported to be accused of serious crimes including murder and attempted murder, relating to the Kobane protests of October 2014, which took place as a result of the siege of the town of Kobane in northern Syria by ISIS and the inaction of the Turkish government in the face of an imminent ISIS massacre. During the protests, at least 43 people were killed. The overwhelming majority of these people were members or sympathisers of the HDP, and they were killed with Turkish police firearms. HDP MPs have so far tabled more than ten parliamentary proposals to establish an all-party parliamentary commission to investigate the protests, establish the truth, and help to clarify the identity of the provocateurs and instigators of violence. But all these proposals were refused by the ruling alliance of President Erdoğan’s AKP and the extreme-right MHP.

It therefore appears that the government is seeking to put all the blame and responsibility on then HDP by means of a judiciary that is under its total control. As HDP co-chair Mr Mithat Sancar has stated, this operation is a political action that is implemented “under the guise of a judicial decision.”

President Erdoğan and the Turkish government were clearly irked by the defeat of ISIS by Kurdish fighters in Kobane in 2014. Since then, the government has been increasingly aggressive towards the HDP and these new arrests appear to be part of Erdoğan’s politics of revenge. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that the government is pursuing those who showed solidarity with the Kobane resistance even six years after the event? Another interesting point is that some of the people recently arrested have been previously arrested, prosecuted and acquired for the exact same charges, such as the co-mayor of Kars, Mr Ayhan Bilgen.

Since 2015, about 16,000 HDP members and administrators have been detained, and over 5,000 of them were later arrested and sent to prisons, along with journalists, academics, teachers, artists, lawyers and trade unionists. The party’s former co-chairs, members of parliament, dozens of elected mayors, and countless members and administrators still remain behind bars. It is likely the government is ramping up pressure on the HDP because it fears that in the next elections the HDP will play a crucial political role for the democratic future of Turkey, thereby threatening the demise of the AKP-MHP alliance.

During my five and a half years as a Labour MEP I made frequent missions to Turkey, including to the Kurdish majority cities of Amed (Diyarbakir), Batman, Igdir and Nusaybin. I had the opportunity to meet many HDP members including co-mayors, Members of Parliament and party workers. I have twice led the Imrali Peace Delegation, which calls for the humane treatment and release of Abdullah Öcalan, de facto leader of the Kurds who has been incarcerated on an island prison for more than 20 years. Other delegation members have included Shavanah Taj, Acting General Secretary of Wales TUC, Ögmundur Jónasson, former Minister of Justice of Iceland, and Father Joe Ryan, Chair of the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission. I twinned with the HDP MP Leyla Birlik during her Mme in arbitrary detention in Silivri Prison, and supported HDP MP Leyla Güven
during her long hunger strike. In February of this year I attended the HDP Congress in Ankara along with Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, PES officials, and other socialist and democratic politicians from around the world.

In the spirit of internationalism and solidarity that defines our movement and our party I urge you to raise the issue of these recent politically motivated arrests with the Foreign Office as a matter of urgency.

I remain available for further discussion on this topic.

Yours sincerely,

Julie Ward, Former Labour MEP, 2014-2020

Julie Ward MEP