MP Gergerlioğlu’s expulsion from parliament sparks global outrage

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Turkish dissidents, members of the European Parliament and prominent rights activists around the globe have condemned Ankara’s expulsion of opposition MP and prominent human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu from parliament.

In a move that has sent shockwaves through Turkey and the international community, Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was stripped of his parliamentary membership after a Supreme Court of Appeals decision upholding a prison sentence of two years, six months given to the rights advocate lawmaker on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda was read out in the General Assembly.

A medical doctor by profession, Gergerlioğlu served first as a provincial chair and later as director general of human rights group MAZLUMDER. He was elected to parliament in 2018 from the HDP and served on parliament’s Human Rights Committee.

Proceedings were launched against Gergerlioğlu over his social media posts, and the deputy stood trial on terrorism charges for sharing a news report on Twitter. He was given the jail sentence at the end of his trial on Feb. 21, 2018 on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda, and the conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals on Feb. 19.

Gergerlioğlu was attacked by Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers in December after he brought widespread claims of strip-searches and harassment in prisons and detention centers to the floor of parliament.

HDP Foreign Affairs spokespersons Feleknas Uca and Hişyar Özsoy issued a statement on Wednesday saying that despite “dire circumstances,” their party would “continue with its dignified democratic struggle for rights, freedoms, and peace.”

“We invite the democratic international community to speak out and act now and show the strongest solidarity with Mr Gergerlioglu and the HDP, which has already made great sacrifices to defend the already emaciated democratic life and parliamentary democracy in Turkey,” Uca and Özsoy said.

Global outrage

European Parliament Standing Rapporteur for Turkey Nacho Sánchez Amor and the Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee Sergey Lagodinsky (Greens/EFA, DE) issued a statement on Wednesday in reaction to the decision to expel Gergerlioğlu from the Turkish Parliament.

“We firmly condemn the decision to strip human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu of his parliamentary seat and parliamentary immunity on 17 March 2021, and his upcoming subsequent jailing,” the lawmakers’ statement said, and added, “His conviction, expulsion and expected incarceration because of a social media post constitute a severe violation of his human rights and another serious step that further undermines the trust in Turkey’s parliamentary democracy.”

Twitter was abuzz with messages of outrage against Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and of solidarity with Gergerlioğlu. 

“#GergerliogluYalnizDegildir,” which means” Gergerlioğlu is not alone,” has become a top Twitter trend in Turkey.

“Gergerlioğlu is a true human rights defender who has used his place in parliament to speak up for the marginalized, and in return is facing jail time,” tweeted Nate Schenkkan, director of research strategy at Freedom House.

“In solidarity with HDP MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu! Stripping him of his parliamentary immunity was illegal, immoral and a cowardly act,” tweeted Kati Piri, Dutch politician and former rapporteur for Turkey’s EU membership.

“HDP opposition MP @gergerliogluof has been stripped of his parliamentary seat for a tweet, a shocking attack on democratic norms and the rule of law, a violation of Turkey’s constitution, laws and obligations under international law,” tweeted Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director of Human Rights Watch.

“Gergerlioğlu’s 2016 tweet falls squarely within the boundaries of protected speech and there are no grounds on which to argue that it could be either necessary or proportionate to prosecute him for words which state an opinion and do not incite violence,” Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday. 

“His prosecution and conviction are a serious violation of his rights to freedom of opinion and expression and take place in the context of widespread and systematic violations of free speech by the Turkish government that have accelerated following the coup attempt in 2016.”

“A very dark moment for the Parliament of Turkey. There is no reason for the cancellation of the mandate of @gergerlioglueng. It is again a demonstration by majority forces of their total lack of respect for the results of democratic elections,” tweeted Rebecca Harms, a former Green member of the European Parliament.

Indignation among dissidents

Turkey’s dissidents fumed at the unlawful expulsion of Gergerlioğlu and took to Twitter to express their solidarity with the rights advocate lawmaker.

“Gergerlioğlu, the ardent human rights defender, genuinely the most honorable member of the Turkish parliament is stripped of his MP status. He is the first victim of Erdoğan’s sham ‘democratic and judicial reform.’ If anybody took the word of reform seriously, time to wake up,” tweeted veteran journalist Cengiz Çandar, referring to a reform plan announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a time when Turkey is the subject of harsh criticism due to gross human rights violations.

The 55-year-old Gergerlioğlu is appreciated by many for being the voice of people who are subjected to rights violations regardless of their views or background.

“Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu always stood up against injustice and became the voice of people who suffer injustice,” posted the Twitter handle of Grup Yorum, a folk collective known for its leftist stance and songs about human rights violations and freedoms in Turkey, expressing the band’s solidarity with Gergerlioğlu.

“What is being revoked is not the parliamentary membership of Gergerlioğlu but the people’s will and parliament’s dignity,” tweeted Can Dündar, a prominent Turkish journalist living in Germany after fleeing the country to escape political charges and death threats.

“Will of the people has been trampled once again through an unlawful, arbitrary decision. This decision will be recorded in history as a shameful one. The expulsion of Gergerlioğlu is unlawful. It is a putsch against the people’s will,” tweeted Erkan Baş, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP).

Gergerlioğlu and HDP lawmakers began a sit-in at the general assembly after he was stripped of his parliamentary seat.

The revocation of Gergerlioğlu’s status reduced the HDP’s seats in the 600-member assembly to 55. The parliamentary status of two other HDP lawmakers was removed last year due to convictions against them.

Later on Wednesday a Turkish prosecutor asked the Constitutional Court to shut down the HDP altogether.

The AKP government accuses the HDP of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The party denies links to the militants and says it is coming under attack because of its fervent opposition to Erdoğan’s 18-year rule.

Hundreds of HDP politicians, including the party’s former co-chairs, are behind bars on terrorism charges.

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