AS PART of a UK delegation monitoring the recent elections in Turkey, Emily Apple of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) was on the ground in Bakur, the majority-Kurdish region. She witnessed repression and fraud during the election, and the UK delegation has since seen evidence of widespread fraud.

In the run up to the elections, at least 126 people were arrested, including politicians, journalists, and lawyers, in order to silence the opposition. In the week before the election, repression witnessed by the UK delegation included seeing how the police refused to let the women of the Yeşil Sol Parti campaign on the streets of Amed (the Kurdish name of the capital of the South East region Diyarbakir). This included telling women they could not chant slogans or hold placards advocating women’s rights, while riot police continually blocked their ability to walk on the pavement.

On the day of the election, the UK delegation, which included MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, witnessed fraud and repression. This included military personnel being bussed into a village to vote, a police officer with a gun in the voting room when this is prohibited, and military vehicles stationed outside polling stations, with a heavy police presence at most of the polling stations they visited. Since the election, the UK delegation has seen evidence of votes being changed in the official register.

The UK has approved £2.1 billion worth of arms export licences to Turkey between 2013 and 2022, including £424 million in 2022, making Turkey the fourth largest recipient of such licences. UK arms companies have helped Turkey develop drones, and BAE Systems is helping the country to develop its own fighter aircraft.

Emily Apple, CAAT’s Media Coordinator, said: “This is the fourth election I’ve observed in Turkey, and like the others I’ve attended, this was not a free and fair election. Turkey only plays lip service to the notion of being a democracy. But there is no democracy when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan controls the media, where opposition parties are not only not given equal air time or coverage, but journalists covering alternate perspectives are persecuted and jailed.

“Turkey is one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists. There is no democracy when there is intimidation at polling stations, and there is no democracy when women cannot campaign freely for their political party on the streets. By arming Turkey, the UK is upholding Erdoğan’s authoritarian regime, as well as enabling Turkey’s aggression against its neighbours Iraq and Syria, and military repression of its Kurdish population.

“During the election, I witnessed fraud and intimidation. This included military personnel, never before seen in a village, being bussed in to manipulate the vote, and a large military and police presence outside polling stations.

“Under these circumstances, achieving a second run of presidential voting is a massive indictment of Erdoğan’s rule. In the run up to this second election, it is essential that international scrutiny and pressure is intensified. It is literally a question of life and death for the Kurdish people we spoke to in Bakur if Erdoğan wins another presidential term.

“However, whatever the results of the second election, it is clear now that Erdoğan will continue to wield significant power and this will have devastating consequences for Kurdish people not only in Turkey, but also in Northern Syria and Iraq where the Turkish state is conducting bombing operations. The UK government should immediately suspend any further arms deals with Turkey and put the lives and human rights of the Kurdish people above the profits of arms dealers.”

* More information on the pre-election mass arrests here.

* More information on UK arms sales to Turkey here.

* Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade