The lifting of parliamentary immunities in Turkey
After the voting through of a temporary amendment to the Turkish constitution, the prosecution of Members of Parliament can now be fast tracked. Previously any prosecution of a member of parliament required a lengthy process culminating in a vote in parliament itself. After the change, any indictments currently lodged with parliament will be processed immediately and MPS right to appeal to the constitutional court has also been removed.
The main target of these prosecutions will be the MPs of the third largest party in parliament, the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP). 55 of the 59 HDP MPs face a total of over 400 indictments, the overwhelming majority of all indictments lodged. HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş alone faces 80 indictments.
Almost all the indictments are political in nature. 216 are under the anti-terrorism law and allege “Propaganda for a terrorist organisation”. A further 201 are for “Insult”, usually insulting the government and institutions of Turkey, or the President. The next most frequent are 199 indictments for breaches of the law on marches and demonstrations. The list goes on but the complete absence of any accusations of violence or non political criminal behaviour is notable. 99% of the accusations relate to the normal political activities expected of an opposition member of parliament.
With the route for appeals to Turkey’s Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, by individual MPs against their indictments closed off by the constitutional amendment, the last chance to avert this attack on elected parliamentary representatives is an appeal to the Constitutional Court about the constitutionality of the constitutional amendment itself, widely believed to be unconstitutional. The Minister of Justice has tried to block this route, too, saying that individual applications by Members of Parliament to the Constitutional Court will not be accepted, leaving only the possibility of an application which needs to be signed by 110 MPs. The far right MHP party supports the government and the leadership of the official opposition party, the CHP, has issued a ban on its MPs supporting such an application to the constitutional court.
This has opened the way to prosecutions of almost all the MPs of the HDP, a party elected with more than 10% of the popular vote. It will then only require a decision by a court to remand an accused MP in custody pending trial for that person to be expelled from Parliament. Not even a conviction is required.
If elected MPs are jailed and removed from parliament, then the road to peaceful political change will have been blocked off. The argument that the way forward for democratic change in Turkey is legal struggle expressed through the ballot box will have been considerably weakened.
The situation in the South East of Turkey is already very grave and hundreds of people have died
since the peace process was abandoned in the summer of 2015. The lifting of parliamentary immunities can only make this bad situation worse.
There is now a critical situation in the town of Nusaybin, in the province of Mardin. The YPS armed group have issued a statement stating that to avoid further civilian casualties they withdrew all their forces from the town on May 25 and that no armed persons remain there. Only women and children, the old, and unarmed wounded remain. Any attack by security forces, in particular on the Alika neighbourhood of Nusaybin, will be against unarmed and vulnerable civilians. A repeat of the situation that developed in Cizre, with many civilian deaths, is feared.