Opposition demands release of jailed MP following 2nd top court ruling on rights violation

Erkan Baş (L), the leader of Workers' Party of Turkey (TIP) and his party's MPs Sera Kadıgil (C) and Ahmet Şık (R) display a portrait of TIP's jailed MP Can Atalay during a swearing-in ceremony at the Turkish parliament in Ankara on June 2, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Opposition politicians have once again called for the release of jailed lawmaker Can Atalay, who was elected to parliament in May, after Turkey’s Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled for the second time that his rights had been violated, Turkish Minute reported.

Atalay, 47, was allowed to run from jail in May’s general election and was elected to parliament as a member of the leftist Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP).

He was one of seven defendants sentenced last year to 18 years in prison after a controversial trial that also saw award-winning philanthropist Osman Kavala jailed for life.

In October the Constitutional Court ruled that Atalay enjoyed immunity from prosecution granted to elected lawmakers and ordered the Supreme Court of Appeals to reverse its earlier decision to keep the lawyer in jail.

But the appeals court refused to comply and filed a criminal complaint against the Constitutional Court judges who sided with Atalay.

The top court on Thursday discussed Atalay’s situation for the second time and ruled that his rights to be elected and engage in political activities guaranteed under the constitution were violated. His right to liberty and security was also violated, the court ruled.

Commenting on the decision on X, formerly Twitter, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Özgür Özel said Atalay’s immediate release was required by the constitution.

“To resist this decision is to ignore the constitutional order. We will continue to defend justice and the law,” he added.

Tülay Hatimoğulları, the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM), called on the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision and release Atalay.

“Stop usurping the will of the people of Hatay, implement the Constitutional Court decision! Can Atalay should not stay in prison even for one more minute! Can Atalay should be released immediately!” she said on X.

TİP also released a written statement on X underlining that the top court’s decision means that Atalay, as a lawmaker, has been held in Silivri Prison for 221 days as a “political prisoner,” not as an arrested or convicted person.

“At this point, it has once again become clear that there is no legal debate here. The only thing that needs to be done now is to implement the decision to release [Atalay]. … Our MP’s freedom must not be usurped for another minute, and Can Atalay must be released immediately,” the party said.

Meanwhile, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) deputy chairman, Feti Yıldız, said they did not expect the Constitutional Court to make any other decision.

He said the top court isn’t allowed to give orders or instructions to other courts.

“Constitutional Court judgments are binding, yes. But the decisions of the Supreme Court of Appeals are also binding. In my opinion, the justification of the Constitutional Court’s judgments is not correct,” Yıldız said.

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