Turkey arrests pro-Kurdish party spokesman in crackdown
DIYARBAKIR - Turkish courts on Tuesday placed under arrest two MPs from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the latest in a string of measures against the group ahead of a referendum on constitutional change.
Ayhan Bilgen -- the party's official spokesman and an MP representing the eastern province of Kars -- was remanded in custody ahead of trial after he was held by police on Sunday at an Ankara airport and taken to Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in the southeast.
The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that he was arrested on charges of "membership in an armed terror organisation."
Another prominent HDP MP, its legal expert Meral Danis Bestas, was also placed under arrest after being detained at her home in Diyarbakir.
The party however said the arrest was meant to prevent the HDP from campaigning against constitutional changes dramatically expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers in a referendum planned in April.
"The arrest of our party spokesman Ayhan Bilgen is to block our referendum work but you cannot turn down the volume of 'NO,'" the HDP wrote on its official Twitter account.
The latest arrests raised the number of HDP MPs behind bars on terror charges to 12, including the party's co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. The party holds 59 out of the 550 seats in parliament.
Bilgen had become the public face of the party in the absence of the co-leaders.
Turkish prosecutors are demanding up to 142 years in prison for Demirtas on charges of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Demirtas and other MPs have denied any links to the PKK listed as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies and slammed the case as political.
In another move, police detained a member of the secular opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) member, Sera Kadigil, on accusations of "insulting the president", "publicly denigrating religious values and inciting hatred," through a series of social media posts.
Kadigil, a lawyer by profession and a member of the party's assembly, was held by the police following her client's hearing at an Istanbul courthouse, Anadolu said.
CHP lawmakers Baris Yarkadas, who appeared at Istanbul courthouse in support of the party member, argued the detention was timed to coincide with the referendum campaign, saying the tweets in question dated back to 2015.