ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament stripped Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a pro-Kurdish lawmaker and activist, of his parliamentarian status on Wednesday after the country’s Court of Appeal upheld a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence.
Gergerlioglu is a deputy in the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which the government accuses of having links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. His prison conviction was upheld last month on charges of “making terrorist propaganda” for retweeting a T24 news story in 2016 about the Kurdish conflict and the collapse of the peace process.
HDP deputies protested Wednesday’s decision by staging a sit-in protest in the general assembly of the parliament.
“Stripping him of his parliamentary immunity was illegal, immoral and a cowardly act,” Kati Piri, a former EU Rapporteur on Turkey, tweeted.
Gergerlioglu, who was also a member of a government commission responsible for monitoring human rights violations and has consistently drawn attention to allegations of rights abuses, has been a member of parliament since 2018.
“Turkey and the whole world will see what it means to take a deputy away from the people,” he said earlier in the week.
After his sentence was approved last month by the Court of Cassation, Turkey’s high court of appeals, triggering the government to strip him of deputyship immediately, Gergerlioglu applied to the constitutional court but to no avail.
“The lifting of the immunity of the opposition deputy Gergerlioglu because of his unjust conviction is a moment of shame,” Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner Milena Buyum told Arab News.
“He is a human rights defender who was prosecuted for expressing his peaceful opinion in 2016, two years before he became parliamentarian. Not only should he have never been prosecuted for that tweet, but his relentless pursuit in the defense of people’s human rights should also be heeded if the government is serious about human rights,” she added.
In the controversial news article, the leadership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had called on the Turkish state to take steps for peace. The article also included a reaction against that call from Bulent Arinc, who was a deputy for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party at the time.
The website that published the article was never prosecuted and the article is still accessible online, without any court order to block it.
Gergerlioglu, an outspoken rights defender, recently raised the issue of routine strip searches of women taken into custody by police, but the government harshly denied the allegations.
Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu branded him as a “terrorist” for exposing the strip searches claims.
This latest move of the government, supported by the Nationalist Movement Party, is also seen as contradictory to the recently unveiled human rights action plan designed to strengthen the rule of law and democracy in the country.
“The stripping of immunity from this outspoken opposition politician, this human rights defender can only confirm that the action plan is in fact, sadly, an exercise in window dressing,” Buyum said.
Human Rights Watch also released a statement on Wednesday defending Gergerlioglu.
“Gergerlioglu’s conviction is a blatant violation of his right to free speech and using it as a pretext to expel him from parliament would show deep disdain for democratic norms and the right to political association,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“Any move to strip Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his parliamentary seat as a prelude to jailing him would look like a reprisal by the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government for his brave and vocal stance in support of thousands of victims of human rights violations.”
Alpay Antmen, a deputy for Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said the government aims to divert the attention of the public away from economic problems at home.
“They are not able to govern the country’s economy, and they pursue such anti-democratic moves in order to shape peoples’ perception about the deteriorating economic conditions,” he told Arab News.