Rights advocate deputy files lawsuit against minister who branded him a ‘terrorist’

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Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent human rights activist and member of the Turkish Parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, has filed a lawsuit seeking TL 20,000 ($2,700) in damages against Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who in a recent speech labeled him a “terrorist,” the Mezopotamya news agency reported on Wednesday.

Gergerlioğlu’s lawyer filed the lawsuit at an Ankara court on the grounds that Soylu attacked his client’s personal rights.

At a meeting with police chiefs on Dec. 24, Soylu denied recent claims made by Gergerlioğlu that police strip-search detainees and inmates in Turkey’s prisons and detention facilities, saying: “The slander that strip-searches [take place] is dishonest and despicable. It is cheap to give voice to these [allegations] on the floor of parliament.”

The minister also accused Gergerlioğlu of being a member of “FETÖ,” a derogatory acronym used by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group, as a terrorist organization. The Turkish government accuses the Gülen group of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016. The movement strongly denies the accusation.

“I call on the judiciary [to act]. Truly, this man is a terrorist. We have filed criminal complaints many times. Do whatever needs to be done,” Soylu said.

In his petition to the court, Gergerlioğlu said Soylu’s remarks targeting him were even beyond an attack on his personal rights, claiming it was an explicit provocation and did not fall within the limits of freedom of expression.

In remarks to Mezopotamya, Gergerlioğlu said efforts targeting him and his party due to their claims about strip-searches in Turkey are aimed at covering up these claims.

The latest strip-search allegations were brought to public attention by Gergerlioğlu, which prompted scores of women as well as men to share on social media their experiences of strip-searches.

“Being a rights advocate is not easy in Turkey, but I will continue to be a human rights defender. This what it means to be a member of parliament,” Gergerlioğlu said, adding that if he is awarded compensation from Soylu in the lawsuit, he would donate the money for scholarships for children of purge victims.

Purge victims refer to the more than 130,000 public servants who were removed from their jobs by government decrees during a state of emergency declared after the failed coup.

The Turkish government is has been harshly criticized for using the coup attempt as a pretext to crack down on non-loyalist citizens.

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