Greater Middle East
Turkey's eastern province of Muş has banned protests and demonstrations for 15 days following the March 30 nationwide local elections amid objections by the country's pro-Kurdish party to the reported results. The announcement from the governor's office came following an official victory by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the Kurdish-majority province by a narrow margin over the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The HDP is preparing to appeal the results, citing irregularities. Muş is one of numerous provinces in Turkey's east where government-appointed administrators (kayyim) have been running municipalities since the July 2016 coup attempt. (Ahval)
Turkish police on March 30 conducted raids on 127 homes in Istanbul and arrested at least 53 people, including all candidates for the city council with the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The sweeps come less than 24 hours before nationwide local elections commence. In southern Sanliurfa province, police arrested 11 other HDP candidates and campaigners on supposed "terrorism-related" charges. Some 30 more HDP candidates and supporters were arrested in the cities of Adana, Van, and Igdir. The government accuses the HDP of links to outlawed Kurdish militants, and 10 lawmakers, 40 mayors and thousands of activists remain behind bars. Before the raids, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated the accusation and called the party "terror lovers." (Kurdistan 24, AP)
Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leading Egyptian pro-democracy activist, was released from prison on March 29 after serving a five-year sentence, according to his family and lawyer. Fattah was a leading voice among young Egyptians in the uprising of 2011, which ousted president Hosni Mubarak from power after a 30-year period of rule. A prominent blogger and software engineer, he was once described by authorities as "the icon of the revolution."
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the complete "territorial defeat" of the Islamic State (ISIS) on March 23. The SDF "declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100% territorial defeat of ISIS," Mustafa Bali, head of the force's press office, announced on Twitter. "On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible," Bali added. Some 11,000 fighters of the SDF, a Kurdish-led umbrella force of Kurds, Arabs, and Christians of northern Syria, died in the war against ISIS. In Iraq, more than 1,800 Peshmerga were killed battling the group. The Iraqi army has not released their official figures casualties, but it is believed to be in the thousands.
The European Union adopted a non-binding resolution March 13 against Turkey's accession as a member of the EU. The resolution passed in the European Parliament by 370 votes in favor, 109 against with 143 abstentions. The assembly noted past and ongoing human and civil rights violations committed by Turkey. The body expressed concern over Turkey's lack of respect for minority religious and cultural rights. It mentioned the "shrinking space for civil society," arrests and suppression of journalists, and dismissal of dissident academics, as well as the treatment of refugees and migrants within its borders. The body noted that Turkey's government has violated the due process rights of its own citizens under the guise of counter-terrorism. It has also intimidated its own citizens abroad and abused Interpol arrest warrants to extradite its own nationals back to Turkey.
Even amid growing media portrayals that Bashar Assad has won the war in Syria, the first real hope has emerged that the dictator will face war crimes charges before the International Criminal Court. A group of Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan after surviving torture and massacres this week submitted dossiers of evidence to the ICC in an attempt to prosecute Assad. Although Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which establishes the court's jurisdiction, lawyers in London are citing recent precedent set by the ICC in extending jurisdiction for the crime of forcible population transfers across international borders. London barrister Rodney Dixon of Temple Garden Chambers, representing the group of 28 refugees, said: "The ICC exists precisely to bring justice to the victims of these most brutal international crimes... There is a jurisdictional gateway that has opened up finally for the ICC prosecutor to investigate the perpetrators who are most responsible." In his letter to chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Dixon notes last year's ICC ruling on Rohingya refugees, allowing an investigation of non-signatory Burma to proceed. (The Guardian, BBC News)
After nine years of proceedings, a court in Belgium on March 8 acquitted multiple defendants accused of activities involving the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Belgian judicial authorities had requested that 36 individuals and companies be tried by a criminal court on charges of taking part in "terrorist activity." The Belgian Chamber of Indictment, however, blocked proceedings against all defendants, ruling that the PKK insurgency is an "internal armed conflict" within Turkey and, as such, neither the party nor its armed wing, the People's Defense Forces (HPG), may be considered a terrorist organization under Belgian law. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the decision. (Kurdistan 24)
An appeals court in Turkey on Feb. 19 upheld the convictions of 14 employees of Cumhuriyet, a Turkish news outlet that has been critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The defendants—including journalists, a cartoonist, executives and accountants—were sentenced in April to prison terms between four and eight years on charges of "acting on behalf of a terrorist group without being members." The Third Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice reviewed and upheld each of these sentences. In Turkey, sentences less than five years cannot be overturned once they are upheld by an appellate court, meaning that eight of the defendants must now serve out their terms. The remaining defendants with longer sentences plan to appeal to Turkey's Supreme Court.