In a move that has created shockwaves in Turkey and the international community, the Turkish Parliament on Wednesday expelled a prominent lawmaker and human rights activist due to a prison sentence he was handed down for a tweet.
Ömer Faruk 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.
HDP deputies in parliament protested Gergerlioğlu’s expulsion by chanting slogans against the ruling AKP, saying, “Putschist AKP.”
Gergerlioğlu, making a V for victory, said he is not going anywhere and is staying at the heart of the nation while criticizing the parliament for allowing the reading out of the court decision, which he said was totally unlawful.
— HDP (@HDPgenelmerkezi) March 17, 2021
“This is a ruling that violates the constitution. This is a political decision. We don’t recognize this ruling. I just posted a message about [achieving] peace. I am saying this again: Life is about resisting. No matter how nonsensical the sentences they hand down, I will continue on my path. Sovereignty lies with the nation,” said Gergerlioğlu.
Recalling the case of Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Enis Berberoğlu, who was tried on espionage charges, jailed and subsequently stripped of his parliamentary membership after his conviction but recently returned to parliament based on a Constitutional Court ruling, Gergerlioğlu said: “Enis Berberoğlu returned to the parliament as a lawmaker. I will also return to parliament. They have stripped me of my membership despite knowing all this.”
Gergerlioğlu and HDP lawmakers began a sit-in at the general assembly after he was stripped of his parliamentary seat.
In early March, Gergerlioğlu petitioned the Constitutional Court, claiming that his right to freedom of expression had been violated with the prison sentence on terrorism-related charges.
In his petition to the top court, Gergerlioğlu said the tweet in question was about a peaceful solution to Turkey’s Kurdish problem and was the exercise of freedom of expression on a political issue. The petition also made reference to the European Convention on Human Rights and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights concerning freedom of expression.
On Tuesday he said he would not leave parliament and would resist his expulsion, calling the move controversial and unlawful.
“I will be at the general assembly. So far none of the deputies who were ousted from parliament have been present [when the court decisions about them were read out]. I will probably be the first such example. Think about it, a member of parliament will be ousted while he’s sitting there. This will be a very traumatic situation for democracy and the will of the nation,” Gergerlioğlu told a group of reporters on Tuesday.
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 at a high criminal court in the northwestern province of Kocaeli in 2017. The deputy stood trial on terrorism charges for sharing a news report on Twitter posted by the T24 news website on Aug. 20, 2016. The story included a statement from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU. The headline was a quote from the PKK statement, saying, “If the state takes a step, peace will be achieved in a month,” meaning that Turkey’s long-standing Kurdish problem could be solved in a short time based on steps to be taken by the Turkish government.
Gergerlioğlu 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.
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.
The AKP government accuses the HDP of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its western allies. The party denies the government’s claim and says it is working to achieve a peaceful solution to Turkey’s Kurdish problem. Hundreds of HDP politicians, including the party’s former co-chairs, are behind bars on terrorism charges.