Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ordered a retrial in the case of an opposition lawmaker who received a suspended sentence for an opinion piece in which he criticized pro-government businessman Mehmet Cengiz, chairman of Cengiz Holding, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Wednesday.
The court said the conviction of Aykut Erdoğdu, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), despite his parliamentary immunity was a violation of his rights.
Cengiz is among five businessmen who are referred to by Turkey’s opposition parties as the “gang of five” for having won nearly all the large tenders during the time in office of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
According to the top court, Erdoğdu, then-CHP deputy chairman and İstanbul MP, wrote an op-ed for the Birgün daily in 2014. In the article the opposition MP alleged that during the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which came to power in 2002, Cengiz and other businessmen were awarded public contracts; that numerous irregularities occurred in tender and privatization processes, causing financial losses to the public; and that legal proceedings related to these irregularities were intentionally delayed.
Upon a complaint filed by Cengiz, the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office prepared a summary of proceedings, requesting the removal of Erdoğdu’s parliamentary immunity. In 2016, a case was filed against Erdoğdu at the İstanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance.
The prosecution of members of Parliament has been possible since the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) lent support to a 2016 proposal submitted by the ruling AKP on removing deputies’ immunity from prosecution. The immunity of all deputies who faced prosecution was lifted in May 2016.
Despite Erdoğdu’s re-election as a member of parliament in 2018, his request for a suspension of the trial was denied. The court ultimately handed down a suspended one-year sentence for defamation and a fine of TL 1,000 ($36.6) for insult. The appeals court then reversed the sentence for insult but upheld the verdict for defamation. Subsequently, in 2019, the case was taken to the Constitutional Court through an individual application.
According to DW, the top court ruled that Erdoğdu’s rights to stand for election, engage in political activities and freedom of expression were violated and ordered a retrial. The MP will also receive damages in the amount of TL 39,000 ($1,428).
Stating in its decision that the local and appeals courts provided insufficient justifications for the MP’s conviction, the Constitutional Court noted that such a punishment “can lead to the suppression of diverse voices in the public, causing harm to the environment of information and criticism.”
Cengiz, one of the world’s top 10 private sponsors of public infrastructure projects for the years 1990 to 2020, according to World Bank data, won tenders worth $42.1 billion between 2002 and 2020.
The holding first came to public attention in Turkey in late 2013, when Turkey was shaken by the news of two corruption investigations in which senior ruling AKP politicians were involved.
Mehmet Cengiz, who has been awarded numerous public contracts — including the construction of İstanbul’s third airport — during the nearly 21 years of AKP rule, was heard in wiretapped phone conversations cursing the Turkish people.