US warns against ‘chilling effect’ of Turkey’s immunity bill
WASHINGTONThe United States has warned about the “chilling effects” of a controversial Turkish bill – recently approved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - that lifts the parliamentary immunities of scores of lawmakers.
“We’re very concerned that this amendment will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech across Turkey,” U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said during a June 9 press briefing.
“We believe that the freedom to engage in free speech and political speech is – or should be - protected under the law. And this certainly involves speech by elected representatives of a country’s citizens,” Toner said, adding that they will continue to monitor the issue closely and express their concerns with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The bill, approved late on June 7, paves the way for the trial of 152 legislators, mostly from the Kurdish-problem focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), while falling short of lifting all immunities, including those of ministers.
A total of 799 cases have been opened against lawmakers, including the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and deputies from the HDP.
There are no summaries of proceedings against only four deputies out of 59 deputies in parliament elected on the HDP ticket, while there are summaries of proceedings against the leaders of all three opposition parties holding seats in the national assembly.
Lawmakers from the CHP and the HDP previously issued individual appeals against the change to the Constitutional Court, after the HDP’s efforts to garner 110 lawmakers for a collective appeal failed due to Kılıçdaroğlu’s strong opposition.
The first individual application was made by CHP Trabzon deputy Haluk Pekşen early on May 26, followed by another four CHP lawmakers. A total of 58 lawmakers from the 59-person HDP caucus later issued their individual petitions to the top court for the annulment of the constitutional amendment.
CHP Istanbul deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu was also among lawmakers who applied to the court, but he said his application was not an individual appeal but was made under Article 85 of the constitution, which address the right to object.
All appeals, however, were rejected by the Constitutional Court.
For many, events have brought to mind the situation in March 1994, when the parliamentary immunities of four deputies of the now-defunct pro-Kurdish Democratic Labor Party (DEP) – a predecessor of the HDP – were lifted on charges of helping the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Current HDP deputy Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and late Orhan Doğan were elected for the now-dissolved Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP) before splitting off to form the DEP. They were all dragged out of parliament to serve long jail sentences after their immunities were revoked.