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Turkey: Parliament unseats outspoken pro-Kurdish MP after court verdict

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, also a human rights advocate, has decided to hold a sit-in in parliament to protest the 'illegitimate decision' to revoke his membership
HDP MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu (C) reacts as he is surrounded by MPs applauding and brandishing placards after he was dismissed following a vote at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, on 17 March 2021 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul

Turkey's parliament on Wednesday stripped a prominent human rights advocate of his MP's status following a verdict related to his Twitter posts that called for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue in the country.

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a member of the human rights commission in the parliament from the pro-Kurdish HDP, was handed an appeals court decision last month that upheld a sentence of two years and six months in prison.

In response to  parliament's decision, Gergerlioglu vowed that he would not leave the chamber. He brought a bag of supplies with him to sustain himself during his protest.

'I will resist, and won’t allow the national will to be trampled on. Calling for peace isn’t a crime'

- Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu MP

Turkish law bars police from entering the parliamentary grounds, but MPs who are tasked to maintain order could force him out.

“I will resist, and won’t allow the national will to be trampled on. Calling for peace isn’t a crime,” he said.

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Turkey’s main opposition party CHP condemned the speaker Mustafa Sentop’s decision to read the court judgement in parliament, which automatically removed Gergerlioglu’s MP status.

During the proceedings, a former ruling AK Party MP, Abdurrahim Aksoy, shouted from the visitor gallery: "Long live democratic Turkey and down with autocracy." 

'Free speech violation'

Traditionally, Turkey's parliament does not make such moves against sitting MPs. It would wait for the next elections to oust an MP.

However, recently Sentop and the ruling AKP have broken that tradition to go after opposition MPs from the HDP, which is the third-largest party in the national assembly. 

Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the government's coalition partner, the nationalist MHP, has recently called for a ban on the HDP for its alleged links to the PKK, a Kurdish armed group labelled as "terrorist" by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Human Rights Watch earlier on Wednesday said that Gergerlioglu’s statements on Twitter in 2016 were within the boundaries of protected speech.

In his tweet, Gergerlioglu commented on a news story which reported that the PKK had called on the Turkish state to take a step towards peace.

Gergerlioglu’s responded that “This [the PKK’s] call should be properly considered, there’s no end to the issue…!”

The court considered that Gergerlioglu’s statements, along with his other tweets, could be considered as "terrorist propaganda", yet the news story that carried PKK’s declaration itself did not receive any legal challenges and is still accessible by the general public.

“His prosecution and conviction are a serious violation of his rights to freedom of opinion and expression and take place in the context of widespread and systematic violations of free speech by the Turkish government that have accelerated following the coup attempt in 2016,” Human Rights Watch said.

“Any argument that the tweet provides a possible ground to deny Gergerlioglu parliamentary immunity because Gergerlioglu was misusing fundamental rights protected under the Constitution or attempting to divide the country or overthrow the republic, does not stand up to scrutiny.”

In this tweet, Gergerlioglu posted a picture showing HDP MPs conducting a sit-in protest inside the parliamentary chamber. "We won't leave the parliament," Gergerlioglu says. 

Since being elected in 2018, Gergelioglu, a medical doctor and rights activist who used to be associated with conservative rights group Mazlum-Der, has emerged as a leading member of parliament who frequently raises neglected human rights abuses, from extrajudicial kidnappings to prison conditions to public attention.

His social media campaigns often raise awareness on the issues and received national media coverage. 

On Twitter, some 140,000 posts used the hashtag “Gergerlioglu isn’t alone” to condemn the move against the MP.

HDP MPs also decided to wait inside the parliamentary chamber along with Gergerlioglu to protest the decision.

Gergerlioglu has already filed a case at the Constitutional Court to overturn the sentence. However, the court also has to issue a judgment on the legality of the parliamentary move against him.

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