HDP fears 'being lynched' as Turkish bill to strip MPs of immunity advances

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Pro-Kurdish party would bear the brunt of consequences if bill passes allowing Turkish MPs to be prosecuted, says analyst

Co-leader of the HDP Selahattin Demirtas (C) waits at a Turkish army barricade waiting to enter Cizre (AFP)
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Last update: 
Wednesday 4 May 2016 8:33 UTC

The Turkish parliament moved a step closer to lifting immunity from prosecution from MPs on Monday, a move that could see scores of pro-Kurdish MPs in court on terrorism-related charges.

An all-party parliamentary commission voted to allow a debate on a bill to remove immunity for lawmakers who have outstanding prosecution cases against them.

Politicians from the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), centre-left Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voted in favour of the bill during a heated debate on Monday which saw MPs come to blows and throw cups of water.

 

Though MPs from all four of the parliament’s political parties are covered by the bill, the move is seen as primarily aimed at the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP), who have 278 prosecution outstanding against their politicians.

The HDP’s delegation to the talks later stormed out of the debate in protest at the scuffles, leaving the other parties to swing the vote.

Though the commission has passed the bill, it still needs to be passed in parliament to become law. 

HDP politicians have slammed the move and have condemned the acquiescence of other opposition parties.

“What’s being done is not the defence of homeland,” said Sanliurfa MP Baydemir Osman, according to the HDP’s official Twitter account.

“Today HDP is being lynched - tomorrow it will be CHP.”

Members of the AKP, however, have claimed that popular outcry over the killings of hundreds of members of the security forces by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has pushed their hand over the immunity issue. The HDP is accused of having links to the Kurdish militant group.

“Every day, we are attending funerals of the martyrs, the people have been openly asking, ‘Why are you not lifting their immunity?’” Cemil Cicek, a senior member of the ruling AKP and former parliament speaker, said in an interview hours before the vote.

Ankarali Jan, a Turkey-based analyst said that the bill's passage through parliament could fail.

“It may not do, given how many MPs would be affected by the move, but if there's not a big rebellion in the CHP, I guess it will,” he told Middle East Eye.

The CHP have 138 prosecution requests against them, while the MHP and AKP have 12 and 48 respectively.

Jan added that, once immunities were removed, “almost certainly most of those convicted would be HDP over terror offences.”

The issue of the lifting of immunity has met with some controversy in the CHP.

Istanbul MP Sezgin Tanrikulu, a former deputy chair of the party, raised his objection to the party's original decision to support the move in August on his Twitter account.

“I do not approve of discussing immunities by getting locked up by the AKP's engineering of political interests and agenda; full stop!” he wrote.

A number of CHP MPs face prosecution for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu who recently called Erdogan a "sexual and political pervert."

Ziya Meral, a researcher with a focus on Turkey, said that it was likely that the move to lift MPs immunity would be abused for political gain.

"In principle I support lifting all immunities, except for speeches in parliament," he told MEE. "But in practice this will be used for political reasons, and selectively. Thus, it might not result as a positive development for Turkey."

However, he said that although the actions of some HDP MPs were deserving of prosecution, Turkish counter-terrorism laws needed "reform" and had to move away from prosecuting "non-violent opinions".

Charges of separatism

The HDP has been by far the most successful political party with a pro-Kurdish platform in the history of the Turkish Republic. 

Previous pro-Kurdish political parties, such as the Democratic Party (which was dissolved in 1994) have been shut down over charges of seperatism - or have at least failed to pass the required 10 percent electoral threshold set by the 1982 military government-imposed constitution.

The HDP managed to secure 80 seats in the 2015 June elections, passing the electoral threshold and effectively robbing the AKP of a majority in parliament.

Though this dropped to 59 seats in the subsequent November elections, the HDP still largely controls the Kurdish-majority southeast of Turkey.

However, the breakdown in July 2015 of a ceasefire between the Turkish state and the PKK and the descent into violence in the country’s southeast has turned many against the HDP who are accused of being the PKK’s representatives in parliament.

Scores of HDP politicians have already been arrested in the southeast and numerous local councillors and mayors have been dismissed from their posts, often after declaring political "autonomy" for their regions

Among those who risk prosecution if the immunity is lifted is HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas. In December, the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into Demirtas after he voiced support for calls for self-governance in the southeast.

“Regional autonomy offers a very important opportunity for everyone in terms of living together,” he said at the time, according to the pro-government Daily Sabah.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutogul at the time slammed the HDP as not “a truthful political party” and said it had “disguised intentions".

Ankarali Jan told MEE that although imprisoning HDP MPs would not change the make-up of the parliament at this stage, it would still deal a blow to the party.

“The HDP won't be much use in parliament if 90 percent of their MPs are in jail,” he said. 

“If the AKP chooses to hold another election, this could be their insurance against the HDP getting back in.”

He added that the AKP was unlikely to seek to have the party officially banned, as such a move could leave the AKP vulnerable to being threatened with dissolution itself, having in the past faced accusations that it undermined the secular values of the republic.

“They changed the rules to make dissolution almost impossible after a case to dissolve their party went all the way up to the constitutional court and was rejected by only one vote in 2008,” he said.

“So this is their way of making sure that those who oppose them suffer without putting their own existence into question.”