Turkish police on Tuesday detained 110 people over alleged militant ties, security sources said, with a pro-Kurdish lawmaker saying politicians, lawyers and journalists were among those held in raids that he linked to elections on May 14.
The operation was focused on Diyarbakir, the largest city in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey, and targeted people across 21 provinces accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group.
The operation came less than three weeks before presidential and parliamentary votes that represent the biggest electoral challenge President Tayyip Erdogan has faced since his AK Party first came to power in 2002.
“On the eve of the election, out of fear of losing power, they have resorted to detention operations again,” Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Tayip Temel said on Twitter.
He said tens of politicians, including top members of his party, journalists, artists and lawyers were among those detained in Diyarbakir.
The prosecutor’s office in Diyarbakir declined to comment. One security source said police carried out simultaneous raids on 186 addresses and seized some digital materials after prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 216 people.
He said the suspects were accused of providing financing, recruiting and spreading propaganda for the PKK, which is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey and several Western states.
Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Associate Director Emma Sinclair-Webb said access to the investigation file was restricted. It was “clearly an abuse of powers and intimidation tactic before election”, she said on Twitter.
The third biggest party in parliament, the HDP faces a potential ban in a constitutional court case in which it is accused of PKK connections that it denies. Its parliamentary candidates are therefore running under the umbrella of the small Green Left Party.
The HDP is not part of the main opposition alliance but is fiercely opposed to Erdogan after a crackdown in recent years in which thousands of its members, lawmakers and mayors have been jailed or stripped of positions over alleged PKK ties.
The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict. In recent years, the fighting has shifted from southeast Turkey and is now focused on northern Iraq.