Order to Close Down Democratic Society Party Shows Need for Constitutional Reform
December 12, 2009
Banning the Democratic Society Party is a blow to efforts to resolve the Kurdish issue and ensure minority rights in Turkey.As a matter of urgency, the government should revise the constitution and Law on Political Parties, so that this kind of ban won’t be possible in the future.
Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher

(Istanbul) - The decision today by Turkey's constitutional court to ban the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party demonstrates that Turkey urgently needs to reform its constitution and ensure its laws are compatible with human rights, Human Rights Watch said.

The court found that the party had promoted Kurdish separatism and unanimously issued a ruling to close down the party permanently and exclude 37 party members from politics for five years. The Democratic Society Party was the 25th political party closed down in Turkey since 1962.

"The court's decision to ban yet another party shows just how urgently constitutional reform is needed to guarantee political participation in Turkey," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch.  "The Democratic Society Party is the latest victim of laws that do not conform with international human rights standards."

Ahmet Türk, co-chair of the party and a member of parliament, and Aysel Tuğluk, another member of parliament, are among the 37 party members excluded from politics for five years. Both will lose their parliamentary seats. The party will also be stripped of its assets by the Treasury.

The court's full verdict, setting out its reasoning for the closing and bans on party members, has not yet been made available. However, the statement announcing the verdict by the president of the constitutional court, Haşim Kılıç, implied that the court had found no distinction between the Democratic Society Party and the outlawed armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). He stated: "Nowhere in the world does a political party embroiled in terrorism and violence deserve the right to either freedom of expression or freedom of association."

The chief prosecutor of Turkey's Court of Cassation issued the indictment on November 16, 2007, calling for the party to be closed and the case had been pending before the Constitutional Court.  The indictment contends that the party has links with the PKK.

The bulk of the evidence cited in the indictment consists of speeches and statements by members of parliament, mayors, and party officials. However, these statements do not openly promote or praise violence.  For a fuller discussion of the case, its background, and international human rights standards relating to political parties, please see: "Questions and Answers about the case against the Democratic Society Party."

In recent months the Justice and Development Party government has expressed a commitment to introduce reforms to uphold the rights of Kurds in Turkey. On November 13, 2009, the government held a parliamentary debate in which it committed itself to efforts to extend the fundamental rights and freedoms of all groups in Turkey through what it termed a "democratic opening up."

"Banning the Democratic Society Party is a blow to efforts to resolve the Kurdish issue and ensure minority rights in Turkey," Sinclair-Webb said. "As a matter of urgency, the government should revise the constitution and Law on Political Parties, so that this kind of ban won't be possible in the future," said Sinclair-Webb.

In July 2008, the ruling Justice and Development Party narrowly escaped being closed down. The party was accused of having engaged in anti-secular activities, supposedly evidence of a longer-term intention to set up an Islamic state.