The Turkish parliament on Thursday stripped lawmaker Semra Güzel from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who is currently in jail, of her parliamentary status due to inadequate attendance at sessions of the legislature, Turkish Minute reported, citing the state-run Anadolu news agency.
Güzel, who was stripped of her parliamentary immunity and jailed in early September, faces a prison sentence of up to 15 years on charges of membership in the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
A total of 330 members of parliament voted in favorstripped of her parliamentary immunity of the removal of her parliamentary status in Thursday’s session, while 42 of them voted against.
HDP Co-chairpersons Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar as well as other lawmakers from the party walked out of the parliament after the vote.
Güzel was at the center of a controversy due to photos that emerged last year showing her posing with a militant from the PKK to whom she said she had been engaged. The photos showed Güzel with now-deceased PKK militant Volkan Bora in a PKK camp in Iraq in 2014. The photos were allegedly seized from Bora’s mobile phone after he was killed in a clash with Turkish security forces in southeastern Turkey in 2017.
The photos sparked calls for the removal of Güzel’s immunity and the launch of criminal proceedings against her due to her alleged affiliation with the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community and which has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984. A summary of proceedings against her was drafted earlier this year by an Ankara prosecutor that sought to remove her immunity from prosecution.
Güzel said in a written statement that she was engaged to Bora and was able to visit him in 2014 while Turkey was conducting peace negotiations with the PKK.
“He left the country after a series of prosecutions and trials,” she said. “I tried to reach him just like others who tried to see their loved ones between 2013 and 2015, when a resolution process [between the government and the PKK] brought a positive spirit.”
Güzel lost her parliamentary immunity in March when 313 lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the opposition İYİ (Good) Party and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voted in favor, while 52 voted against. An arrest warrant was subsequently issued for her, and she was arrested trying to flee Turkey on Sept. 2.
Photos showing Güzel being handcuffed from behind and pushed by police officers at the time of her detention led to outrage among human rights defenders.
The prosecution of members of parliament has been possible since the CHP and the MHP lent support to a 2016 proposal submitted by the AKP on removing deputies’ immunity from prosecution. The immunity of all deputies who faced prosecution at the time was lifted in May 2016.
The political and legal assault on the HDP, which intensified after the truce between Kurdish militants and the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan broke down in 2015, grew even stronger after Erdoğan survived a coup attempt in July 2016 that was followed by a sweeping political crackdown.
The party currently faces a closure case on charges of “attempting to destroy the indivisibility between the state and the people.”
Hundreds of HDP politicians, including the party’s former co-chairs, are behind bars on terrorism charges, while most of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast in 2019 have been replaced by government-appointed trustees.