Three Mayors have been removed from their posts by the Turkish government over allegations they are linked to a Kurdish armed group.
Some 400 people were arrested by the authorities as a part of a crackdown on the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish political group who President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims are linked to the PKK who have fought against the Turkish state for the last 35 years.
The recently elected Mayors of Mardin, Van, and Diyarbakir provinces in eastern Turkey have been suspended.
The Ministry of the Interior said it has active cases against the three individuals for “spreading propaganda” and being members of a “terrorist” group. According to Sinem Koseoglu from Al Jazeera, they have also been accused of diverting funds to support the outlawed PKK.
The HDP denies any links to the PKK but has previously tried to broker peace deals between them and the government. While the government claims it has evidence to support this, the arrests and detentions have been widely criticised as being arbitrary and allegations of torture have been reported by Amnesty International.
Hundreds of HDP supporters, members and around 40 mayors are currently being detained and its former head, Selahattin Demirtas has been in prison since November 2016 under charges that have been criticised by the European Court of Human Rights.
This latest crackdown comes after 95 democratically elected pro-Kurdish mayors were removed from their posts and replaced with government appointees following the failed 2016 coup.
Garo Paylan, a legislator of the HDP voiced his concerns that the government will seek to usurp democratically elected HDP Mayors in Ankara and Istanbul next.
International NGO Human Rights Watch said the removal “blatantly violates the rights of voters and suspends local democracy”.
Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW added, “Smearing the mayors by alleging vague links with terrorism to deprive the Kurdish population of their chosen representatives endangers everyone in Turkey who is committed to democratic elections, human rights, and the rule of law.”
Abusive prosecutions and investigations for overly broad and vague terrorism offenses are widely used in Turkey to silence and arbitrarily detain government critics, journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition politicians, according to the organisation.