PACE refers to jailed pro-Kurdish party MPs as ‘political prisoners’

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The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), of which Turkey is a member, has passed a resolution referring the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies jailed in Turkey as “political prisoners,” Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Tuesday.

The resolution was adopted during PACE’s ongoing plenary session in Strasbourg as a call to Turkey and Spain to reconsider the cases of, and release, deputies who were jailed in connection with speeches and remarks they made during their time in office, the report said.

The resolution, titled “Should politicians be prosecuted for statements made in the exercise of their mandate?” submitted by Boriss Cilevics, a Lithuanian parliamentarian and member of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and Greens groups, was backed by Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and HDP members, while Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Nationalist People’s Party (MHP) and Workers’ Party (İP) members attending the session voted against it.

“Turkey and Spain have two distinct legal cultures and problems. But, numerous politicians have been jailed for years in these countries due to their political remarks while no similar situation is observed in the rest of Europe,” rapporteur Clevics said speaking during the session.

Greek parliamentarian Dora Bakoyannis, speaking on behalf of the Christian Democrats, however, disagreed with the rapporteur’s assertion, arguing instead that Turkey and Spain could not be compared to each other as Turkey suffers from a problem about the “rule of law.”

This position was further promoted by the Liberal, Conservative and Leftist groups, and Icelandic parliamentarian Thorhildur Sunna Aevarsdotti, speaking for the the S&D and Greens, indicated that the Spanish government’s plan to offer amnesty for jailed Catalan politicians should set an example for Turkish authorities.

AKP deputy Ahmet Yıldız, head the Turkish delegation to PACE, criticized the resolution’s argument suggesting that politicians in Turkey were facing accusations for referring to the residents of the southeastern region of Turkey merely as Kurds, saying, “I have never heard of such a thing.”

In its new resolution, PACE recalls its 2012 resolution on the definition of a “political prisoner,” noting that “any politicians who are detained for having made statements in the exercise of their political mandates that respect the limits of freedom of speech,” within the restrictions mentioned in the European Convention on Human Rights, are “political prisoners” should be “released without delay.”

The resolution condemned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism while reminding that Turkey’s counterterrorism legislation was interpreted in an “overly broad” manner, adding, “The harsh penalties, including prison terms, handed down in actual practice for insult or defamation by criminal courts appear to violate the Convention as interpreted by the Court.”

The resolution urged the Turkish government to immediately release jailed pro-Kurdish party politician Selahattin Demirtaş in line with a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights and “take urgent steps to restore the independence of the judiciary, and in particular of the criminal courts, and refrain from making public allegations that could be interpreted as instructions to the courts by senior officials.”

It further asked Turkey to re-examine all cases of politicians who were prosecuted or convicted due to their political remarks and release them “provided the politicians’ statements concerned did not call for or condone violence or the overthrow of democracy and human rights.”

PACE also told Turkish authorities to “promote a culture of open debate in the political sphere.”

HDP politicians are frequently subjected to legal harassment and face terrorism charges in Turkey as the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan see the party as the political front of the outlawed PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US.

Hundreds of politicians from the party including its former co-chairs have been behind bars on politically motivated charges for several years.

Turkey’s attempt to dissolve the HDP has drawn widespread condemnation from Western allies and protests from human rights groups.

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