Turkish parliament’s decision to expel Gergerlioğlu is another blow to democracy, say PACE monitors

The stripping of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu’s mandate is “another and repeated blow” that undermines parliamentary rights and immunity in Turkey, the Turkey rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said in a statement today.

“As a human rights activist and later as a deputy, Mr Gergerlioğlu has continuously fought for the protection of fundamental freedoms in Turkey and raised crucial human rights issues, including in the parliament,” the statement said. “Stripping him of his parliamentary immunity further restricts the rights of opposition parliamentarians to express critical views and perform their oversight function.”

Gergerlioğlu is a prominent human rights activist and a member of parliament since 2018 for the HDP, a left-wing party with majority Kurdish support. One of the most outspoken critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government’s appalling record on human rights, he was found guilty in February 2018 of “spreading terrorist propaganda” on the basis of a 2016 social media post that did not advocate violence.

In their statement co-rapporteurs Thomas Hammarberg (Sweden) and John Howell (United Kingdom) also criticized Turkey’s move towards banning the HDP, the third largest group in the Turkish parliament.

“The recent legal steps taken by the Supreme Court of Cassation, at the initiative of the Nationalist [Movement] Party (MHP), requesting the Constitutional Court to close down the HDP Party altogether is another worrying development that adds to the crackdown on political opposition and civil dissent which was denounced by the Parliamentary Assembly last October,” Hammarberg and Howell said.

The co-rapporteurs added that they were “extremely concerned” that dozens of lawmakers and ordinary citizens continue to be prosecuted for their statements on the basis of anti-terror laws that are “too widely used and interpreted.”

Citing a 2016 opinion of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) on parliamentary immunities in Turkey, the co-rapporteurs called on the Turkish authorities to strengthen, not weaken, parliamentary immunity.

“We reiterate this call and urge the Turkish authorities to take meaningful and concrete steps, without further delay, to safeguard the functioning of its parliament,” the statement said. “Turkey needs a functioning opposition, and must stop silencing critical voices, even if this is annoying for the authorities.”

The co-rapporteurs also asked the Turkish authorities to abide by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights to release former HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

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