Human Rights Watch urges Turkey not to expel pro-Kurdish parliamentarian

It’s expected that the Turkish government will strip pro-Kurdish MP Gergerlioğlu of his parliamentary status and jail him
Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, MP for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey. (Photo: social media)
Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, MP for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey. (Photo: social media)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Turkey not to remove a deputy supportive of Kurdish rights from his seat in parliament. It’s expected that the Turkish government will strip Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his parliamentary status on Wednesday and jail him.

Gergerlioglu, a member of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) representing Kocaeli province in western Turkey, is one of the most outspoken critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government’s record on human rights, HRW said.

Gergerlioglu, a physician and longtime human rights advocate, was found guilty in February 2018 of “spreading terrorism propaganda” on the basis of a social media post.

On August 20, 2016, two years before he was elected, Gergerlioglu tweeted and commented on a news story in which the leadership of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) called on the Turkish government to take a step towards peace.

Gergerlioglu was convicted for the tweet sharing the news article and its accompanying photograph of PKK fighters.

However, HRW stressed that “no one from the news website that published the article was prosecuted, and the news article itself with the photograph is still accessible online and has never been the subject of any court order blocking it or requiring its removal.”

Last month Turkey’s top appeals court upheld Gergerlioglu’s conviction and sentence of two years and six months in prison. 

On March 15, the Speaker of parliament indicated that steps to strip Gergerlioglu of his seat may be imminent, though the lawmaker has filed a Constitutional Court Court challenge to the prosecution.

"I will be at the Plenary Session. They can perhaps take me out of the Plenary Session, but I will wait at the heart of the Parliament, at the heart of the nation's will. We did not win this election easily,” Gergerlioglu said, according to a report by Turkish news agency Bianet. 

“I will wait at the Plenary Session to the end, I will not leave it either. The nation sent me here; it will mean imprisoning 90 thousand people along with me," he added.

Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that “any move to strip Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his parliamentary seat as a prelude to jailing him would look like a reprisal by the Erdogan government for his brave and vocal stance in support of thousands of victims of human rights violations.”

“A decision of the Constitutional Court is pending on his case and in the meantime the government would do better to seriously address the human rights concerns raised by Gergerlioğlu and let him carry on his legitimate parliamentary work as an elected deputy,” he added.

Emma Sinclair-Webb, the senior Turkey researcher at HRW, told Kurdistan 24 on Wednesday that Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu's case “provides another example of how Turkey's courts serve their political masters.”

“There is nothing criminal about the tweet he got convicted for: the decision to punish him with a 2 year 6 month sentence guaranteed it couldn't be postponed and that if upheld - as it was - Gergerlioglu would have to spend some time in prison. Because he is an MP, however, he should benefit from parliamentary immunity.”

“To suggest that a tweet containing a mild opinion is a serious crime that threatens the life of the nation and may divide the country is completely outrageous and an appalling misuse of criminal law and violation of Turkey's Constitution,” she added.

She said all this proves that it is clear that the Turkish government is determined to get rid of “Gergerlioglu and this is the scandalous and unlawful course they have chosen.”

“Gergerlioglu is at heart a human rights defender who stands up against injustice and with incredible humanity and conscience tells the stories of the tens of thousands of ordinary people who have been the victims of the Erdogan government over the past five years but deserve dignity and recognition.”

“I see in this move to expel Gergerlioglu from parliament an effort to silence him and stop him holding up the mirror to the government revealing their record of systematic human rights violations,” she concluded.

Since the collapse of the peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK in 2015, some 16,300 HDP members have been detained, with 3,500 of them receiving prison sentences, party officials told Mezopotamya news agency in November 2019.

Last month, another 700 people were detained in Turkey, including members of the HDP, Reuters reported.

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly