Turkey: Harassment of Opposition Figures Must Stop

Press release
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Metin Yoksu

Paris — FIDH is deeply concerned about the recent developments targeting legitimate political activities of members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). This harassment of opposition figures deals yet another blow to political participation and pluralism in Turkey, two core tenets of democratic societies founded on the rule of law. We urge the authorities in Turkey to immediately halt the judicial harassment of opposition figures and to ensure that they can carry out their mandate without hindrance and with respect for the ideological diversity that is fundamental to healthy democracies.

On 18 March 2021, the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Cassation filed a case before the Constitutional Court requesting the dissolution of HDP and ban of its 687 members from politics. In a public statement, the Prosecutor accused HDP of acting “in a way incompatible with democratic and universal legal principles” and “together with the PKK and its affiliates”, and “aiming to disturb or eliminate the indivisible integrity of the state.” The case was launched against the backdrop of the repeated calls to shut down HDP for alleged “ties with terrorist organisations” by the chair of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), [1] coalition partner of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), while similar calls had been echoed by the AKP Group Deputy Chairman. [2]

On the same day, Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, an HDP MP, human rights defender, and physician expelled from his post in the public sector by an emergency decree, was stripped of his parliamentary seat after his conviction for “terrorist propaganda” for his social media posts in 2016 and the resulting two years and six months prison sentence was upheld by the Court of Cassation on 19 February 2021. While he was convicted for his social media post sharing a news article which included a call by the PKK [3] (Kurdistan Labour Party) on the authorities to take a step towards peace, the original news article has not been incriminated, which raises strong doubts about his conviction being politically motivated. In the early morning of 21 March, he was briefly taken into police custody from the Parliament, where he was spending the day and night to protest the situation, on the basis of yet another criminal investigation. Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu may soon be detained to serve the two-and-a-half year prison sentence. He has challenged his conviction before the Constitutional Court on the basis that his constitutionally protected rights were violated, and the application is still pending review.

Since he was elected to Parliament in 2018, Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu has continuously advocated for the human rights of various individuals, including those who survived torture and ill-treatment by security officials as well as the civil servants dismissed from their posts by the emergency decrees on their alleged “ties with terrorist organisations.” Recently, he brought the practice of strip searches of women in custody to the attention of the Parliament, but the allegations were repeatedly denied by the representatives of AKP. His conviction and the resulting revocation of his MP status are clear violations of his freedom of expression and his right to defend human rights, as well as of his right to political participation and representation, and of the fundamental principles of a pluralist democracy. This recent development also appears to be in violation of the Constitutional Court’s previous rulings [4] on other cases of detained deputies as well as the jurisprudence of European Court of Human Rights. [5]

FIDH strongly condemns the harassment of opposition politicians and believes that the above-mentioned cases of harassment, including at the judicial level, are politically motivated and aimed at obstructing HDP’s legitimate political activities. These developments must be read in the context of a progressive erosion of the rule of law and human rights, and increased attacks against civil society and political opponents in Turkey. Numerous HDP members, including its former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Pervin Buldan, remain in arbitrary detention despite a recent landmark judgment by the European Court of Human Rights ruling that Demirtaş’s detention violates his fundamental rights. [6] Furthermore, across Turkey, in at least 59 municipalities, democratically elected HDP mayors were dismissed and replaced by government-appointed trustees since the latest local elections in March 2019. [7]

FIDH reiterates its calls upon the Government of Turkey:

• To immediately ensure the release of all politicians detained on politically motivated criminal charges based on proceedings disregarding their right to due process;

• To halt the judicial harassment of all HDP politicians and all other opponents, human rights defenders, and civil society actors;

• To guarantee pluralism and the effective exercise of the right to political participation and representation by ensuring that elected politicians, including from the opposition, can exercise their mandate without hindrance or fear of reprisals;

• To uphold the principle of parliamentary immunity for politicians, ensuring that they are protected from politically motivated investigations and prosecutions aiming to obstruct their legitimate political mandate;

• To halt the undemocratic practice of removing elected HDP mayors from their offices on the pretext of trumped-up charges and immediately reinstate those who have been removed from office as a result of such practices.

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