Turkish Parliament strips HDP deputies Yıldırım and Ayhan of parliamentary status

HDP deputies Ahmet Yıldırım (L) and İbrahim Ayhan.

The Turkish Parliament on Tuesday stripped pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies Ahmet Yıldırım and İbrahim Ayhan of their parliamentary status over court rulings against them, including one convicting the latter of insulting the country’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Yıldırım was given 14 months in jail last year by the Muş 2nd Penal Court of First Instance for insulting President Erdoğan in a speech in which he referred to the president as a “hack sultan.”

With the removal of Ayhan and Yıldırım, the number of HDP deputies banished from Turkish national assembly rose to nine. HDP, the country’s second-largest opposition bloc whose number of seats thus fell to 50 from 59 at the Parliament dominated by Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), condemned the decision.

“Head of our Parliamentary group Ahmet Yıldırım was stripped of his deputy status for calling AKP’s leader Erdoğan a shoddy emperor,” a statement on the party’s official Twitter feed read.

It said the reason behind Ayhan’s expulsion was his tribute on Twitter for a Turkish leftist revolutionary, Aziz Güler, killed within the ranks of the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) during a 2015 battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. Last year, Ayhan received 15 months in jail for his paying respect to Güler on the grounds of “disseminating terrorist propaganda.”

Ayhan had campaigned for the repatriation of Güler’s body from northern Syria, a process the Turkish government stalled for two months.

Yıldırım had labeled the President Erdoğan as “the palace’s shoddy emperor” during a September 2015 speech he gave at a demonstration against the Turkish government forces’ human rights violations, including the killing of civilians at urban centers in clashes with the militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’s Party (PKK).

In mid-February, a Turkish court of appeal upheld an earlier prison sentence of 14 months for Yıldırım for that remark it deemed as an insult to Erdoğan. The court went so far as to ban him from politics, effectively preventing him from becoming a member of a party or run for any post in any elections, a first in modern Turkey’s history. His loss of the seat at the national assembly for insulting the head of the state is another first, creating a perilous legal precedent for the opposition figures as a whole.

Another HDP deputy, Meral Danış Beştaş, and the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, are among others who have called Erdoğan a “shoddy emperor,” while some other politicians accused him of being “a dictator and thief.”

Apart from the imprisonment and politics ban, Turkish judiciary deprived Yıldırım of civic, and custodial rights, including his right to be appointed to any state, provincial, municipal, or neighborhood position, joining a charitable organization, NGO, syndicate, or corporation.

In a separate trial in 2016, he was fined 10,000 Turkish Liras (2,630 USD) for an alleged insult to President Erdoğan.

HDP deputies Tuğba Hezer Öztürk, Leyla Zana, Nursel Aydoğan Faysal Sarıyıldız, Ferhat Encü, Besime Konca and Figen Yüksekdağ were previously stripped of their parliamentary status. Yüksekdağ, Aydoğan, Konca, and Encü are in prison whereas Hezer and Sarıyıldız have been in self-exile in a European country.

Nine HDP deputies are currently in prison: Selahattin Demirtaş, Figen Yüksekdağ, Selma Irmak, Abdullah Zeydan, Gülser Yıldırım, Çağlar Demirel, Ferhat Encü, İdris Baluken and Burcu Çelik Özkan. The HDP is now represented by only 43 deputies in Parliament, with some deputies retaining their parliamentary status while in pretrial detention, according to Cumhuriyet.

Meanwhile, 8 people, including 6 former Kurdish politicians and a human rights advocate, were detained on Tuesday in two separate police investigations, pro-Kurdish Mesopotamia news agency reported. HDP party council member Olcay Öztürk and former HDP council member Halef Keklik were detained in Ağrı alongside Vural Kaya, a director of the Human Rights Association (İHD). Former Ağrı HDP parliamentarian Mehmet Emin İlhan was also detained by police in Van as part of the same investigation.

Furthermore, in the town of Şenoba near the Iraqi border, three members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) including one of the town’s mayors were among 4 detained on Tuesday morning, the news agency said.

Turkish government’s crackdown on Kurdish political movement began in late 2016 with the arrest of high profile politicians, including the party’s then Co-chairs, Yüksekdağ, and Selahattin Demirtaş, led to the detention of at least 5,000 members of the HDP, including 80 mayors. Trustees have been appointed to dozens of municipalities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast.

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