Turkey’s Erdogan lifts lawmakers’ immunity, paves way for prosecutions
Lawmakers in Turkey could now be subject to prosecution after a bill allowing criminal charges to be brought against legislators was signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Earlier in May, the Turkish parliament approved the lifting of lawmakers’ legal immunity in a secret ballot, allowing the bill to go directly to implementation, avoiding a referendum.
The new law which comes amid allegations of freedom of speech violations in Turkey, is apparently aimed at Turkish lawmakers who might be supportive of the Kurds and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered to be a terrorist organization by Erdogan’s government.
Members of Turkey’s opposition, the anti-nationalist People’s Democratic Party (HDP) might be among the new bill’s targets.
“My people do not want legislators who back a separatist terror organization [the PKK] to sit in parliament,” Erdogan said at the time of the parliamentary vote, calling the decision to move forward with the bill “historic.”
Ankara’s decision to strip MPs of legal immunity has raised concerns among the international community and the country’s partners within the EU bloc. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, has criticized the move, while a German government spokesman has said “the situation will certainly be raised by the chancellor” during her meeting with the Turkish president. The U.S. State Department said the law will have a “chilling effect” on democratic freedoms in Turkey.
Even though Turkish lawmakers had immunity before the newly-introduced measure, the authorities could still file “dossiers” against them, to be used in possible legal action after their departure from parliament. The vast majority (50 out of 59) of current HDP members in the parliament have had such “dossiers,” according to Hurriyet Daily.
HDP organized a rally to protest the introduction of the new bill last Sunday. More than a thousand people took to the streets of Istanbul.
“There is already too much violence in the country. Blocking the parliament and ousting the HDP may get things out of hand,” the pro-Kurdish party co-leader Selahattin Demirtas previously told Hurriyet.
Turkish security forces have been involved in a large-scale military operation in the country’s southeast, populated primarily by Kurds. Some 7,600 PKK militants have been killed since July last year, the state leader announced on Tuesday. He added, “we will continue our operations with determination.”
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Hundreds protest abolition of pro-Kurdish MPs immunity in Istanbul, Turkey (video) , June 5, 2016
U.S. warns against ‘chilling effect’ of Turkey’s immunity bill
The United States has warned about the “chilling effects” of a controversial Turkish bill, recently approved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that lifts the parliamentary immunities of scores of lawmakers. “We’re very concerned that this amendment will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech across Turkey,” U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said during a June 9 press briefing.
“We believe that the freedom to engage in free speech and political speech is – or should be – protected under the law. And this certainly involves speech by elected representatives of a country’s citizens,” Toner said, adding that they will continue to monitor the issue closely and express their concerns with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The bill, approved late on June 7, paves the way for the trial of 152 legislators, mostly from the Kurdish-problem focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), while falling short of lifting all immunities, including those of ministers.
A total of 799 cases have been opened against lawmakers, including the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and deputies from the HDP.
There are no summaries of proceedings against only four deputies out of 59 deputies in parliament elected on the HDP ticket, while there are summaries of proceedings against the leaders of all three opposition parties holding seats in the national assembly.
Lawmakers from the CHP and the HDP previously issued individual appeals against the change to the Constitutional Court, after the HDP’s efforts to garner 110 lawmakers for a collective appeal failed due to Kılıçdaroğlu strong opposition.
The first individual application was made by CHP Trabzon deputy Haluk Pek?en early on May 26, followed by another four CHP lawmakers. A total of 58 lawmakers from the 59-person HDP caucus later issued their individual petitions to the top court for the annulment of the constitutional amendment.
CHP Istanbul deputy Sezgin Tanrnkulu was also among lawmakers who applied to the court, but he said his application was not an individual appeal but was made under Article 85 of the constitution, which address the right to object.
All appeals, however, were rejected by the Constitutional Court.
For many, events have brought to mind the situation in March 1994, when the parliamentary immunities of four deputies of the now-defunct pro-Kurdish Democratic Labor Party (DEP) – a predecessor of the HDP – were lifted on charges of helping the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Current HDP deputy Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and late Orhan Do?an were elected for the now-dissolved Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP) before splitting off to form the DEP. They were all dragged out of parliament to serve long jail sentences after their immunities were revoked.
Turkish Parliament commission approves draft proposing legal shield for soldiers in anti-terror [sic] fight, Hurriyet Daily News, June 10, 2016
ANKARA – The Turkish parliament’s national defense commission approved a draft proposal to provide legal protection to soldiers involved in security operations against groups listed as terrorist organizations on June 10.
According to the draft proposal prepared by the Defense Ministry, the investigation and trial processes of commanders and the chief of general staff will require the prime minister’s permission…
Erdoğan cuts short U.S. trip to attend Muhammad Ali burial, Doğan News Agency, June 10, 2016
No EU-Turkey visa deal by July 1 says Austria, Agence France-Presse, June 10, 2016
BRUSSELS – A deal to allow Turks visa-free entry to the EU as part of a wider accord with Ankara on curbing the migrant crisis cannot be completed by the July 1 deadline, Austria said June 10.
“I do not think that the first of July is feasible,” Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg. “We really need to have a legally flawless solution. If not, Austria cannot agree,” said Sobotka, whose country took in record numbers of refugees last year, mostly from war-torn Syria.
The European Union agreed in March to offer Turkey visa free access by July 1, increased aid and speeded up accession talks in return for Ankara controlling the flood of migrants crossing into Greece. But Ankara warned late last month it would drop the whole agreement if there was no visa deal after the European Commission laid down a series of conditions, including changes to Turkey’s catch-all anti-terrorism laws so as to meet EU concerns over human rights.
Dutch Interior Minister Klass Dijkhoff said separately the EU was working closely with Turkey on the issue but “it is not a negotiation process.”
“If Turkey wants visa liberalisation, they know the requirements they should meet,” said Dijkhoff, whose country currently holds the EU’s six-month presidency. “There is a date that is the first of July; if they meet it, then we can go on; if they don’t, then we have to see when they can meet criteria,” he added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he could wait until October to get the visa deal but he has also warned the EU against pushing Ankara too far, insisting that its anti-terror laws are fully justified.
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