Prominent figures ask Turkish parliament speaker to safeguard jailed MP’s immunity

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)

A total of 864 prominent figures in Turkey including artists, writers and journalists have called on Parliament Speaker Numan Kurtulmuş in a joint letter to prevent the removal of opposition lawmaker Can Atalay’s parliamentary immunity, Turkish Minute reported, citing the T24 news website.

Atalay, a newly elected MP from the Workers Party of Turkey (TİP), remains jailed despite two rulings by the Constitutional Court (AYM) in his favor.

The letter sent to Kurtulmuş in addition to all lawmakers in parliament comes after the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals dismissed the AYM’s second ruling holding that the rights of the MP had been violated and sent a letter to Kurtulmuş requesting the removal of Atalay’s parliamentary immunity.

“Mr. Speaker, if the parliamentary immunity of Hatay MP Can Atalay is lifted, it will undoubtedly lead to an unprecedented violation of the law, perhaps the most serious in the history of the republic,” the signatories said in the letter.

The absence of the rule of law is at the core of every problem faced in Turkey, they said, adding that if the rulings of the AYM are not implemented in Atalay’s case, judicial chaos is inevitable.

They said the chaos created by a judiciary that has suspended the constitution would completely eliminate the paths to seeking justice and accountability, leading to significant damage in the country.

The signatories of the letter also said if the AYM rulings are not taken into account, individual applications at the top court would cease to be recognized as an effective judicial remedy, prompting people to seek justice at an international court.

“Your decision regarding the removal of Can Atalay’s parliamentary immunity will either further jeopardize our already precarious legal system or avert this threat,” the signatories warned.

They expressed their hope that Kurtulmuş would take the necessary steps to strengthen the belief in the rule of law and that he will not support or contribute to “this unlawful stance, which constitutes a violation of the constitution.”

They also noted that Atalay’s lawyers started to work on bringing the case to the attention of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Before the AYM rulings, the high appeals court upheld an 18-year sentence for Atalay in the Gezi Park trial in September.

The Turkish judiciary is facing an unprecedented crisis following the appeals court’s refusal to comply with two successive rulings by the country’s top court in the case of Atalay, triggering backlash, protests and accusations of a judicial coup.

Prior to the latest crisis, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan already faced accusations of controlling the judiciary and establishing one-man rule, particularly after a coup attempt in 2016, following which he launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens and the country’s subsequent transition to a presidential system of governance, which granted him vast powers.

However, many see this latest episode as the final nail in the coffin and Turkey’s descent into complete autocracy as the government-controlled judges do not even bother to abide by the procedural hierarchy and maintain appearances.

In a development that validated the critics, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the rule of law index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in October, dropping one rank in comparison to last year.

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