Turkey Opposition Leader Faces Prosecution as Crackdown Intensifies

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Turkish prosecutors have taken another step toward the prosecution and possible jailing of the country’s main opposition leader. On Thursday, Ankara prosecutors announced they had prepared their case against Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and called for the lifting of his parliamentary immunity.

The CHP responded by criticizing the ruling party and Turkey’s president.

“[The] Justice and Development Party, and most importantly, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is different from the parties in the past. It has no tolerance against being criticized heavily and this intolerance is reflected in the indictment written by the prosecutors,” said deputy CHP head Sezgin Tanrikulu.

Kilicdaroglu is being prosecuted for his criticism of Erdogan over this year’s controversial referendum to extend presidential powers that was narrowly passed amid accusations of vote-rigging.

On news of the prosecution move, Kilicdaroglu told a gathering of party supporters, “You are not a prosecutor. Those who become slaves to the [presidential] palace cannot be prosecutors, or judges.” The government dismisses such accusations, maintaining the judiciary is independent.

The last few weeks have seen the opposition leader increasingly targeted by the president and others in government.

“Kilicdaroglu, your mind is rotten and your rope is about to break. I’m saying this very clearly; you are finished,” said Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu at a recent party meeting.

Kilicdaroglu had been largely dismissed by the ruling AKP as irrelevant and ineffectual. Last month, however, he accused President Erdogan and his family of transferring large amounts of money to offshore bank accounts. Erdogan demanded Kilicdaroglu prove what he called slanderous accusations. A few days later, the parliament opposition leader produced bank documents appearing to substantiate his claim.

Erdogan’s accusations

Speaking to party supporters, Erdogan warned that Kilicdaroglu will “pay the price.” The president has widened his verbal attack to the CHP itself, declaring it a party of “treason” and describing it as a security threat. He also referred it to the country’s National Security Council, a move that until now was only reserved for the pro-Kurdish HDP, which the president accuses of being a party of terrorism linked to a Kurdish insurgency. Thousands of HDP officials, including its co-leaders, dozens of its mayors and 11 parliamentary deputies are in jail on terrorism charges.

Kilicdaroglu has faced previous accusations, but none has so far reached court. In the current political climate, these latest allegations are seen as by far the most serious.

“If they were to remove him [Kilicdaroglu] from the parliament and subsequently be detained, I don’t think the charade that Turkey is a democracy can be sustained. We are talking about the leader of the main opposition being taken in,” said political consultant Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners. “If such a step were taken, I am almost sure the Council of Europe would remove Turkey’s membership. I don’t know how long the EU can tolerate these transgressions. Relationships at every level are currently frozen, so this could lead to an automatic suspension.”

The interior minister’s use of emergency powers this month to remove a locally elected CHP mayor in Istanbul on corruption allegations is being seen as a further warning against the party. Further removals of CHP mayors are reported to be imminent.

Moving against Kilicdaroglu

Kilicdaroglu’s fate lies with the ruling AKP, which would have to vote to lift his immunity. Analyst Yesilada believes international influence may dictate its final decision on moving against Kilicdaroglu.

“I don’t think AKP has settled on a plan for 2019. We may have a scenario where the government goes to a verbal war with [the] United States, but decides to repair the bridges with the EU. We may have a scenario where Ankara defies both its partners and becomes extremely xenophobic and completely turns to Muslim nations and Russia. Then they will have to stamp harder on the opposition. The fate of the opposition would be determined once this main choice has been made,” Yesilada said.

The legal woes of the CHP in 2019 are set to grow, with 60 of its parliamentary deputies under investigation.

“Turkey is quickly drifting away from the principles of a country of law and democracy under the leadership of Erdogan,” said deputy CHP leader Tanrikulu, who himself is facing prosecution. “It is not possible to talk about an independent and fair judiciary. If immunities are lifted and a case is opened [against Kilicdaroglu], then this may mean that this is the end of democracy and the parliamentarian regime.”

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