Turkish parliament expels opposition lawmaker known for human rights activism

Turkish member of Parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu (C) reacts as he is surrounded by MPs applauding and brandishing placards after he was expelled following a vote at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, on March 17, 2021. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Turkey’s parliament on Wednesday expelled opposition MP and prominent human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu after a controversial conviction over a social media post, AFP reported.

Gergerlioğlu was found guilty in February 2018 of “spreading terrorist propaganda” on the basis of a 2016 social media post that did not advocate violence.

Gergerlioğlu has been a thorn in the side for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, shining a light on a variety of human rights violations that often go ignored by the mainstream Turkish media.

The 55-year-old represents the pro-Kurdish, leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s second-largest opposition party.

Turkey’s top appeals court last month upheld his 2018 conviction for “spreading terrorist propaganda” over a post he shared in 2016 before he was elected an MP in the northwestern province of Kocaeli.

Gergerlioğlu tweeted and commented on a news story briefly reporting that the leadership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed secessionist group listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US, had called on the Turkish state to take a step towards peace.

Gergerlioğlu was convicted for this tweet sharing the news article and its accompanying photograph of PKK fighters. But no one from the news website that published the article was prosecuted, and the news article itself with the photograph is still accessible online and has never been the subject of any court order blocking it or requiring its removal.

Gergerlioğlu, who will now see his immunity from prosecution lifted, defiantly declared in parliament that he would have to be forcibly removed from the chamber.

“I came here to the parliament representing the people’s will,” said Gergerlioğlu, who is also a physician, accusing the parliament of committing a crime against him.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he shouted, calling the decision “unconstitutional.”

Gergerlioğlu was supported by fellow HDP lawmakers, some of whom applauded Gergerlioğlu and banged on tables in the general assembly while chanting “Rights, law, justice.”

“We’re not going to be silent, we’re not scared, we’re not going to submit,” the MPs chanted as the standoff stretched into the late afternoon.

– ‘Not alone’ –

“#GergerliogluYalnizDegildir,” which means ” Gergerlioğlu is not alone,” become a top Twitter trend in Turkey.

Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch denounced the decision on Twitter as “a shocking attack on democratic norms and the rule of law, a violation of Turkey’s constitution, laws and obligations under international law.”

Although he has long been an irritant for Erdoğan, his advocacy for female detainees subjected to strip-searches particularly angered the government last year.

Ruling party MP Özlem Zengin last month denied that women’s rights were being violated.

The debate intensified after a public backlash against Zengin’s comments claiming that “honorable” women would not wait months or years to report such experiences.

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