Turkey’s main opposition is discriminating, too, petition to high court reveals

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on June 11 appealed to the country’s Constitutional Court, challenging the constitutionality in substance of a discriminatory early release bill and demanding its annulment, the Anadolu news agency reported.

The CHP, however, restricted its appeal to certain provisions of the Turkish Penal Code, thus leaving out tens of thousands from the scope of its petition.

The Turkish parliament in mid-April enacted a law on the execution of sentences that was conceived as a measure to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in the country’s overcrowded prisons.

Providing the possibility of early parole or house arrest to inmates, the bill explicitly excluded tens of thousands of political prisoners such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial and broadly interpreted counterterrorism laws, while releasing up to 90,000 offenders convicted of non-political crimes.

Finding the law discriminatory, the CHP brought the legislation before the Constitutional Court on April 22 and challenged its constitutionality in respect of form.

After receiving the application, the Constitutional Court declared that it did not detect any procedural deficiency in the file and that it would review the annulment demand in respect of substance on a day that had yet to be determined.

The main opposition party appealed to the top court on June 11, this time challenging the constitutionality of the legislation in substance and demanding its annulment.

The CHP, however, restricted its application to Paragraphs 6-8 of Article 220 and Paragraph 3 of Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code punishing those who commit crimes on behalf of a terrorist organization, willingly aid and abet a terrorist organization without membership in it or disseminate the propaganda of a terrorist organization — some of the crimes excluded from the scope of the release legislation.

Thus, tens of thousands of political prisoners convicted of membership in terrorist organizations are left out of the scope of the CHP’s application.

Commenting on the petition to the court, Engin Atalay, deputy chairman of the CHP’s parliamentary group, said: “We demanded that those punished under Article 314, Paragraph 3 of the Turkish Penal Code also benefit from the release bill. Likewise, we demanded that those convicted under Paragraphs 6-7 and 8 of Article 220 of the Turkish Penal Code also benefit from it. In other words, those who expressed their thoughts in visual and written media should benefit from this. … The CHP’s application, however, does not demand a reduction in sentence or release for the founders, managers or members of terrorist organizations.”

Following a failed coup attempt in 2016 the Turkish government imprisoned tens of thousands of dissidents on trumped-up terrorism-related charges, including on membership in a terrorist organization.

The authorities particularly considered any link to the faith-based Gülen movement, a dissident group designated as a terrorist organization whose members have been and still are persecuted, as legal evidence proving membership in a terrorist organization.

Based on such criteria as witness testimony, forced confessions, using certain smartphone applications, having an account at Bank Asya — partially owned by adherents of the movement, sending a son or a daughter to a Gülenist school, subscribing to Zaman or other perceived Gülenist periodicals, being a member of Aktifsen – a teachers’ trade union — and other perceived or designated Gülenist institutions and NGOs, the Turkish government convicted tens of thousands of membership in FETO, a derogatory term concocted by the government to refer to the Gülen movement.

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