US says concerned by approval of bill on lifting MPs’ immunity

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United States Deputy Department Spokesperson Mark Toner said in a press statement released on Friday that the US is concerned that the parliament’s approval of a bill, which calls for a constitutional change to lift 138 deputies immunity from prosecution, would “have a chilling effect on freedom of speech across Turkey.

The constitutional change was approved in 550-seat Turkish Parliament on Friday with 376 votes. The move is usually criticized for being politically motivated and targeting the Kurdish politicians. If enacted the bill would effect 138 lawmakers, 50 from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

“We firmly believe that the freedom to engage in political speech — even speech which many find controversial or uncomfortable — should and must be protected for everyone,” Toner stated. “This is especially important when it involves speech by elected representatives of a country’s citizens.”

Saying that the US is closely monitoring the developments on the issue, Toner said, “If this change results in a narrowing of space for political debate, it will erode the quality of Turkey’s democracy.”

Kati Piri, Turkey rapporteur for the European Parliament, also criticized the approval of the bill on her Twitter account. “Dark days in Turkey. Silencing elected MPs of the opposition HDP is a major leap away from democratic standards,” Piri wrote on Friday.

She also said in another tweet that the move was a “historic mistake.”

Another reaction to the approval came from European Parliament President Martin Schulz as he wrote on Twitter, “Today’s vote in Turkey parl[iament] on MPs’ immunity directly targets AKP [Justice and Development Party] opponents. It amounts to a blow to Turkish democracy and political freedom.”

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