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54 Turkish bar associations hold protest in front of top court for release of jailed MP

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Lawyers from 54 bar associations across Turkey gathered in front the country’s Constitutional Court on Friday demanding the release of an opposition lawmaker from jail, the Artı Gerçek news website reported.

Can 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. He was elected from the Workers Party of Turkey (TİP).

Atalay filed a petition with Turkey’s Constitutional Court in July claiming that he has been subjected to several rights violations due to his continued incarceration despite his immunity.

Atalay’s lawyers petitioned the top court after two criminal chambers of the Supreme Court of Appeals rejected applications for his release from prison.

Among the lawyers who gathered for the protest in front of the Constitutional Court on Friday were Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) President Erinç Sağkan and the TBB’s executive board members.

“Preventing a lawmaker from attending to legislative work is never acceptable in a state of law. Where Atalay should be is not behind bars but in parliament,” Sağkan in press statement during the protest.

He vowed to wage a legal battle on all fronts to make sure Atalay is released from prison.

The protestors carried banners that read, “Can Atalay to the Parliament” and “Freedom for Can Atalay.”

According to the Supreme Court of Appeals, parliamentary immunity does not cover crimes that require a severe punishment and may not be applied, either, when an investigation was launched before the election of the jailed person to parliament. The court based its decision on the 14th and 83rd articles of the Turkish Constitution.

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.

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