A group of European lawmakers, academics and activists expressed solidarity with human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu and requested an end to threats against him in an open letter to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
According to the T24 news website, signatories to the open letter expressed their concern about the ongoing repression of human rights activists in Turkey in general and Gergerlioğlu in particular. “We expect public officials, politicians and prosecutors to stop threatening Gergerlioğlu and other human rights defenders,” the letter said.
Gergerlioğlu was attacked by Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers in December after he brought widespread claims of strip-searches and harassment in prisons and under police custody to the floor of parliament and started a social media campaign with the hashtag #CiplakAramayaSessizKalma (Don’t stay silent against strip-searches).
AKP deputy group chairperson Özlem Zengin, in a statement had accused Gergerlioğlu of terrorizing the legislature by bringing such allegations to the floor of parliament.
Following Zengin, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu had slammed Gergerlioğlu for giving voice to the strip-search allegations in parliament.
“The slander that strip searches [take place] is dishonest and despicable,” Soylu had said. “It’s cheap to give voice to these [allegations] on the floor of parliament.”
Soylu had accused Gergerlioğlu of being a member of “FETÖ,” a derogatory acronym used by the government to label the Gülen movement, a faith-based group outlawed by Ankara, as a terrorist organization.
“I call on the judiciary [to act]. Truly, this man is a terrorist. We have filed criminal complaints many times. Do what needs to be done,” Soylu had said.
The letter mentioned the accusations of both Zengin and Soylu and said the ease with which human rights defenders and lawmakers are labeled as terrorist is very concerning.
In response to Zengin and Soylu’s attacks, Gergerlioğlu had said: “They are attacking me because I said strip-searches do happen. If tomorrow Süleyman Soylu becomes a victim, I will defend his rights, too. If the AKP were to one day become the opposition and the victim, I would defend their rights as well. I’m a rights advocate.”
A medical doctor by profession, Gergerlioğlu served first as a provincial chair and later as director general of human rights group MAZLUMDER. He was elected to parliament in 2018 from the HDP, a left-wing party with majority-Kurdish support. He serves on parliament’s Human Rights Committee.
Signatories of the letter include Chairman of the German Bundestag’s Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance Commission Gyde Jensen, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Dietmar Köster, German lawmakers Gökay Akbulut and Sevim Dağdelen and several human rights organizations.