Pro-Kurdish mayor in Turkey removed from office, jailed for 20 years

Pro-Kurdish mayor in Turkey removed from office, jailed for 20 years
Mehmet Siddik Akis says he has become the latest Kurdish political prisoner in Turkey. / Turkish local TV, screengrab
By bne IntelliNews June 5, 2024

A pro-Kurdish party mayor in southeast Turkey who won power in the end-of-March local elections was on June 5 sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison over claimed links to militants.

Mehmet Siddik Akis, 53, mayor of Hakkari province, was detained on June 3. He was accused of having a high-level role in the proscribed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, which has waged an insurgency campaign against Turkey since 1984.

"I know the trial is political," Akis was quoted by local media as saying in his statement to the Hakkari criminal court. He denied the charges.

On June 4, lawmakers in Turkey’s legislature brawled over the detention of Akis.

Also on June 4, European Union Turkey Rapporteur Nacho Sanchez Amor and German MP Max Lucks strongly criticised the move against Akis.

“This is a blatant attack on democratic principles and a total disregard for the will of the people,” Amor said on social media. “It is the fastest way for the Turkish government to demolish any hope of [EU] accession revival.”

The pro-Kurdish DEM Party that Hakkari represents, which has the third largest representation in the Turkish parliament, said on X that the verdict is "null and void".

Turkish authorities accuse DEM of ties to the PKK, which the party denies.

The imprisonment of Akis comes following the May 16 sentencing of former Kurdish presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas—a former leader of the predecessor party to DEM, the People's Democratic Party, or HDP—by a Turkish court to 42 years in prison for his alleged role in deadly protests in 2014 that were sparked by an Islamic State attack on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

Akis has been replaced by a “trustee”, namely the state governor.

In the spring local elections, DEM reasserted its regional strength, with victories in 10 provinces in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

The success of DEM quickly caused tensions. On April 3, following overnight street clashes in which water cannon and tear gas were used to disperse crowds in Van, Turkey’s election authority announced that it had reinstated winning DEM candidate Abdullah Zeydan as mayor of the eastern city after overturning a decision by the regional election commission to remove him.

After previous municipal elections, Turkey has gradually detained pro-Kurdish mayors, removing almost all of them from their posts, over alleged links to the PKK, and appointing trustees to run their mayorships.

This publication’s Istanbul Blog wrote on June 4: “On June 3, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan seized the Hakkari municipality from the pro-Kurdish DEM Party, arresting the mayor and installing a ‘trustee’… In the coming period, Erdogan will seize almost all DEM's municipalities one by one as he did after the previous local elections held in 2019.”