Widespread repression and fraud in the recent Turkish elections shows arms sales to Turkey must be immediately suspended. 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.
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.
It is literally a question of life and death for the Kurdish people we spoke to in Bakur, the majority-Kurdish region of Turkey, if Erdoğan wins another presidential term on 28 May.
On the ground in Bakur, I was part of a UK election-monitoring delegation. 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, the delegation witnessed police refusing to let women of the Yeşil Sol Parti (the Green Left party) 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, including MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, witnessed military personnel being bussed into a village to vote, a police officer with a gun in the voting room (this is prohibited), and military vehicles stationed outside polling stations, with a heavy police presence at most polling stations they visited.
Since the election, the UK delegation has seen evidence of votes being changed in the official register.
The UK approved £2.1bn worth of arms export licences to Turkey between 2013 and 2022, including £424mn in 2022. This makes Turkey the fourth-largest recipient of such licences.
British arms companies have helped Turkey develop drones and BAE Systems is helping Turkey develop its own fighter aircraft.