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Workers Party of Turkey starts sit-in at parliament for release of jailed lawmaker

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The Workers Party of Turkey (TİP) has started a sit-in at the Turkish Parliament in support of Can Atalay, an imprisoned lawmaker from the party, the ANKA news agency reported on Thursday.

Atalay is a human rights lawyer who was elected to parliament from the southern province of Hatay in the May 14 elections but hasn’t been released from prison despite acquiring parliamentary immunity with his seat in the legislature.

According to ANKA, TİP leader Erkan Baş and MPs Sera Kadıgil Sütlü and Ahmet Şık launched a sit-in to show support for a similar protest in Hatay in solidarity with Atalay.

“We will not leave the General Assembly. We will raise our voices against the usurpation of the will of the people and the parliament until our deputy, Can Atalay, regains his freedom,” Baş said during a speech in parliament on Thursday.

Baş called Atalay’s continued imprisonment unlawful and unconstitutional, adding that it is no longer possible to remain silent about it.

Atalay is one of seven defendants sentenced to 18 years by an İstanbul court in April 2022 in a trial concerning the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013, which erupted over government plans to demolish Gezi Park in Taksim. After an appellate court ruled in December that the April verdict “complied with the law,” the defense appealed the case at Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals.

In early June Turkish Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç said applications had been made to the office of the speaker of parliament regarding the release of Atalay and that the speaker would act based on the response to be received from the Supreme Court of Appeals.

According to local media, the Supreme Court of Appeals is waiting for the prosecutor’s report on the Gezi trial to evaluate Atalay’s release application.

Last year Atalay was among seven Gezi Park trial defendants along with prominent businessman Osman Kavala who were named “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty International after a high-level delegation led by lawyer Kerem Dikmen, the organization’s Turkey chair, visited them behind bars.

Amnesty defines prisoners of conscience as people who haven’t used or advocated violence or hatred in the circumstances leading to their imprisonment but are imprisoned solely because of who they are (sexual orientation, ethnic, national or social origin, language, birth, color, sex or economic status) or what they believe (religious, political or other conscientiously held beliefs).

Atalay and the other Gezi Park trial defendants were given jail sentences on charges of aiding a coup attempt, while Kavala, who had been behind bars since 2017, was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole on conviction of attempting to overthrow the government by financing the Gezi Park protests.

The government described the protests as a coup attempt against it. Eleven protestors died and thousands more were injured as they were brutally suppressed by the police on instructions from then-prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

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