PRELIMINARY ASSESMENT ON THE LIFTING OF PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITIES IN TURKEY ON MAY 20, 2016
HDP Foreign Affairs Commission
On 20 May 2016, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT) lifted the parliamentary immunity of 138 lawmakers through a provisional Constitutional amendment. This became possible with the joint efforts of an anti-Kurdish nationalist alliance formed among the ruling AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The Republican People Party (CHP), a member of the Socialist International, also joined these efforts and voted in support of the bill while declaring it anti-constitutional in an attempt to demonstrate that the party is not siding with HDP, which has been subject of nationalist violence since June 2015 elections as well as state repression.
The motion to lift immunities started with Mr Erdoğan’s statements in January 2016 that the HDP MPs should go to prison. The “provisional constitutional amendment” of 20 May revokes the immunities of lawmakers from all parties represented in GNAT. However, for anyone who reads the debates around the bill led by Mr Erdoğan, it is clear that it openly and specifically targets the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), paving the way for the prosecution of its 55 of 59 MPs for their statements and actions on behalf of their constituencies.
The immunity bill allows the indictment of HDP MPs in 510 cases that were pending at GNAT bodies by 20 May 2016. It is significant to note that 105 of these dossiers were sent to GNAT on this very day, in much haste, for the persecution of HDP MPs in a maximum number of criminal cases. This process was run with utter lack of transparency, and we do not have sufficient information about the charges raised against our MPs in 93 dossiers that arrived at the Justice Ministry at the last minute. The distribution of a total of 547 criminal charges contained in the rest of the 417 dossiers are as follows: “Making the propaganda of a terrorist organization propaganda” (180 times), “violating the law on meetings and demonstrations (110 times), “praising a criminal act or person” (57 times), “insulting the president” (27 times) “inciting people to hatred and enmity” (21 times), “carrying out a criminal act on behalf of an illegal organization while not being a member of that organization” (23 times), “membership in an armed organization” (9 times).
This through politico-legal “terror-ization” of HDP MPs should be evaluated together with the fact that virtually all of these charges concern statements and actions carried out, in the context of advocating and explaining the HDP program, including those made within the parliamentary ground, in party meetings, rallies and in press statements.
These deeds fall within the scope of freedom of expression guaranteed under legislative immunity, and are in all cases directly related to criticism of Government policies and actions.
HDP has good reasons to believe that Turkey’s courts will not judge these cases in line with constitutional, democratic and human rights.
What sets HDP apart from other parties represented in Turkey’s political establishment is our open and programmatic commitment to achieving a peaceful, just and egalitarian resolution of Turkey’s long-standing Kurdish conflict based on the recognition of Kurdish people’s individual and collective rights, including the right to local government within Turkey’s territorial integrity.
HDP advocates democratic autonomy for everyone in Turkey. The value of the proposal for democratic autonomy for self-protecting rights and building a sustainable future in the face of a totalitarian government has been time and again shown in the government’s imposition of “urban transformation” plans and displacement in Kurdish towns as well as of “development” plans in the Black Sea region and elsewhere, fighting local resistance with cruel military interventions.
HDP’s commitment to democratic autonomy also lies at the heart of the high rate of electoral support for our party in the Kurdish region, which accounts for about eighty percent of the five to six million votes that carried us into GNAT in the successive general elections of June and November 2015.
Mr Erdoğan has accused HDP of terrorism, including when HDP and supporters were attacked three times by ISIS during his two election campaigns last year.
During the consideration of this motion in the GNAT, Mr Erdoğan campaigned against HDP in the Black Sea region, as the impartial President of the Republic of Turkey under the constitution. He said, “my nation wants them in prison”.
He was accompanied by the heads of the higher courts, who listened to his accusations against the HDP MPs. When criticized for compromising their neutrality, the heads of the judiciary stated that this was an honour for them. They will be chairing the appeal courts deciding the HDP cases.
Despite the antidemocratic %10 election threshold, lynching and murder of our members, mass arrest and imprisonment of thousands of our party executives, members and local activists, hundreds of physical attacks on our offices, and constant criminalization and scapegoating, the Erdoğan regime failed to prevent us from entering the parliament in the elections on 7 June and the repeated elections of 1 November 2015.
When the HDP smashed the threshold for the first time in June 2015, gaining 80 seats in the parliament and ending the AKP majority rule, the AKP leadership stated that this was an international conspiracy against the AKP. They stated that HDP made a big mistake and would pay for it.
Given the manipulation of criminal law and “anti-Terror” legislation as a punitive mechanism against elected Kurdish mayors, journalists, pro-peace academics, or the citizens alleged to have “insulted the President,” we do not expect the courts to be fair to HDP deputies. After all, the decision of the GNAT has nothing to do with the law; it is a political decision that violates the Constitution and the law itself, as declared by the CHP leadership voting in favour of the bill.
The lifting of parliamentary immunities should be understood as an administrative coup to exclude Kurds and other marginalized peoples represented by the HDP from the parliament. This coup is also a firm step to replace Turkey’s already weak parliamentary democracy with a “Turkish-type presidential system” in which the legislative, executive and judiciary powers are monopolized by the President himself, as Mr Erdoğan has openly declared.
In 1994, parliamentary immunity of Democracy Party’s (DEP) Kurdish MPs was lifted and they were sent to prison under the pretext of “fighting terror.” Excluding Kurds from the parliament aggravated the Kurdish conflict in Turkey, costing the country tens of thousands of human lives in the following years.
With the DEP leadership in prison, the Turkish government had no partner for a dialogue, and it was extremely risky to report grave human rights violations in the “military operations” against Kurdish populations, including displacement of more than 1,5 million Kurds.
The provisional amendment to the Constitution on 20 May, lifting immunities for once for the cases already before the parliament, came after a series of indictments against HDP had been brought before the Plenary. An important part of these cases relate to the HDP statements and activities carried out in previous legislative sessions. Over 2013 and 2015, when “democratic resolution” of the Kurdish question was on the AKP’s agenda, and HDP acted as a mediator with Abdullah Öcalan and PKK upon the Government’s request, these activities were not subjected to prosecution.
As soon as the Erdoğan regime declared its “no compromise” policy of war in the wake of the June 2015 elections, relying on the Sri Lanka model according to the AKP opinion leaders, Mr Erdoğan and his media started branding HDP as a terrorist party.
One should also remember that the Erdoğan’s regime fight against the concept of local autonomy started after Rojava region of Syria adopted the model, after defeating ISIS. The defense of Kobane canton, which Mr Erdoğan declared to be falling, by Rojava forces was a turning point in the history of Kurdish conflict within Turkey.
Attesting the political context of the launching of prosecutions against the HDP is the fact that a good majority of the dossiers prepared against the HDP MPs relate to the statements made and actions carried out between 2010-14. That these acts were not seen as indictable as long as the resolution process continued, clearly demonstrates that, behind all this terror-talk, all the reason behind the Erdoğan regime’s campaign against the HDP is to exclude the party from the parliament.
An analysis of the cases brought before the HDP MPs point to two fundamental characteristics: First, considering that the statements in question are based on the program of HDP and are critical of the Erdoğan regime, they are part and parcel of an attempt to marginalize democratic opposition and representation in Turkey, and push the political agency of the peoples HDP represents out of politics. Second, these indictments are in clear contradiction of general principles of criminal law and human rights, which are guaranteed under the Turkish constitution and law.
European Court of Human Rights found again and again that the successive Turkish governments violated their international obligations every time the court judged a case of a Kurdish political party and its MPs, testifying to a systematic campaign of political exclusion.
This clearly raises an issue concerning the enforcement of Turkey’s international obligations to be assessed by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
HDP proposes that the Council of Europe institutions, namely the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, have a mandate to raise the campaign against the HDP in terms of Turkey’s obligations with regards to human rights and democratic representation.
DEPUTIES PROTECT DEPUTIES: APPEAL TO BECOME A SPONSOR OF HDP DEPUTIES
On May 20th, 2016, under extreme pressure of President Erdoğan, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT) lifted the parliamentary immunity of 138 lawmakers through a provisional Constitutional amendment. The lifting of parliamentary immunities should be understood as a political coup which is also a firm step to replace Turkey’s already weak parliamentary democracy with a “Turkish-type presidential system” in which the legislative, executive and judiciary powers are monopolized by the President himself.
The provisional constitutional amendment has targeted the members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) where democratically elected 53 members of parliament (out of 59) are stripped off their immunity. This became possible with the joint efforts of a Turkish nationalist alliance formed among the ruling AKP, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the so-called “social democratic” Republican People Party (CHP).
The HDP is a progressive party established by Kurdish political opposition and other under-represented ethno-religious populations, women, labor and ecologist/environmentalist groups who came together around values of pluralist democracy, peace, justice and equality. It is basically this pluralism that is targeted by this political coup. We would like to make it clear that the last remaining democratic opposition resisting against ambitious authoritarian rule of Erdogan is the HDP and yet, it is not only the responsibility of the HDP to struggle for democracy and rule of law, against Erdogan’s one man rule.
We therefore consider it more than important to form a system of sponsorship (parrainage) between the HDP MPs and the members of the EP in order to develop the solidarity in concrete terms. 53 members of the EP will be sponsoring 53 HDP deputies whose immunity is lifted. Each MEP will closely follow the dossier of one HDP member and remain in constant solidarity with him/her.
HDP Representative in Europe