By Julie Ward, MEP:
Leyla Birlik is one of 10 HDP deputies who have been imprisoned by the Turkish state in the last 3 weeks following the brutal crackdown on political opposition. Leyla is a democratically elected MP representing Sirnak in Southern Turkey. She was elected on November 1st 2015 when HDP won 59 seats exceeding the necessary threshold to enter the Turkish parliament.
I am a Member of the European Parliament from the British Labour Party, representing the North West of England, including the metropolitan areas of Manchester and Liverpool. I am participating in an international solidarity project whereby elected politicians choose to befriend and support the HDP deputies under investigation and imprisoned during the ongoing ‘state of emergency’ whereby increasingly draconian measures are apparent.
Leyla Birlik was born in Mardin in 1974 and before becoming elected to the national parliament she was the chair of the City Council of Sirnak. Leyla is married with one teenage son who suffers multiple health problems. Both Leyla and her son suffer from the liver disease Hepatitis B.
Leyla is an artist and this is one of the reasons I wanted to make this political twinning specifically with her. Before entering politics I worked as a poet and theatre-maker, using arts and culture as a tool for social change.
Leyla has 14 lawsuits against her. She was arrested in the early hours of November 5th whilst visiting a colleague in Midyat. The arrest was physically violent and she was dragged into a police vehicle and interrogated by anti-terrorist forces without any contact with lawyers. For two days none of Leyla’s family members or staff members knew where she was. She was brought to Silivri prison near Istanbul and imprisoned along with two other female HDP deputies. Although some contact between the women has been allowed they are currently in solitary confinement in a wing reserved for political prisoners.
Leyla’s health is very poor due to her liver disease, complicated by ongoing treatment for probable thyroid cancer. Her family have had limited contact with her since her extra-judicial detention and only two of her brothers have been able to visit for one hour each. Her husband and son, and her parents are extremely worried about her. I have met one of brothers and we were able to exchange messages of humanity and compassion for what is happening to Leyla.
On Monday November 21st I went to Silivri prison hoping to be able to meet with Leyla. I was accompanied by Leyla’s parliamentary assistant, a lawyer and an interpreter. I had been in communication with the British Embassy over the weekend and had explained my position as a VIP and woman parliamentarian concerned for the wellbeing of someone like me. Despite the best attempts of all concerned we were denied access. On arrival at the prison our group were subject to intimidation and harassment by the military police at the prison entrance. We were asked to move at least 1 kilometre away from the prison and not to return until we had evidence of official state permission to make a visit. Other visitors arriving on a public bus to visit inmates were also asked to exit the prison campus and had to do so on foot as the bus had left.
On our way to the nearest town our vehicle was ‘routinely’ stopped by the (armed) civilian police and searched. This is apparently ‘normal’ behaviour for civilian police in what has become a paranoid police state, governed by fear.
I remain deeply concerned for Leyla and all the imprisoned HDP deputies as well as the 39 co-mayors, 142 journalists, thousands of judges, lawyers, academics, teachers, public sector workers and community and voluntary sector (NGO) workers who have been arrested and detained since July 15th. My observations lead me to the bleak conclusion that Turkey is quite obviously becoming a fascist state under the power of one man, President Erdogan, who is waging war on his own fellow countrymen in a systematic deconstruction of democracy.
Julie Ward is MEP for North West England