Turkey: Treatment of Kurds

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:14 am on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State 11:14 am, 10th April 2019

In fact, there are no other English Members here at all. We have Jim Shannon from Northern Ireland and Chris Stephens for the Scottish National party. All have raised the serious situation of the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan. Naturally, we condemn the PKK’s acts of violence, just as we condemn all forms of terrorism, but we also naturally expect Turkey to respect properly its international obligations regarding the treatments of all prisoners. We are aware that the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported on Mr Öcalan’s prison conditions as recently as March 2018. In January, British embassy officials discussed his case, as well as that of hunger-striking prisoners, with Turkish officials.

Hon. Members have raised the issue of hunger strikes by prisoners, including by members of the HDP. Although it is of course distressing to witness any hunger strike—we see evidence of them closer to home, in Newport and elsewhere—the decision to embark on one is a matter for the individual concerned. As I said, we expect Turkey to respect its international obligations with regard to prison conditions, including by ensuring access to appropriate medical treatment.

A number of HDP MPs have been arrested on the basis of their alleged links to the PKK. If those links are proven to be accurate, we urge the HDP to distance itself entirely from the PKK and any terrorist activity. However, we have registered our concern with the Turkish authorities about the very large number of relatively recent detentions, including that of the HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtaş. Our embassy in Ankara, alongside other diplomatic missions, has attempted to observe Mr Demirtaş’s trial hearings. Unfortunately, we have sometimes been prevented from doing so. We urge the Turkish authorities to allow diplomatic missions to observe such trials so that we can understand the evidence on which the charges are based.

Hon. Members raised concerns about the replacement of large numbers of HDP mayors in the south-east of Turkey with state-appointed trustees. President Erdoğan has suggested that the same measures may be taken following last month’s local elections. That decision was taken on the basis that those mayors and their municipalities were allegedly channelling funding and political support to the PKK. Again, if that is the case, we should condemn it unreservedly, but we also expect the Turkish state to undertake any legal processes against locally elected representatives fairly, transparently and with full respect for international law and the rule of law. That is vital not just for the long-term health of Turkish democracy, but increasingly for Turkey’s international reputation.

As hon. Members will know, in 2016 there was an attempt to overthrow the Turkish Government by force. Obviously, we are thankful that the attempt failed, but many innocent civilians were killed. I am proud that the UK Government stood alongside our Turkish allies on that night. The Minister for Europe and the Americas travelled to Turkey as soon as he could to show solidarity. I also accept that aspects of the trauma have allowed more space for other activity. However, the trauma of the attempted coup is still fresh in the Turkish consciousness.