Press statement, 23 May 2016

The lifting of immunity threatens to take Turkish politics back decades

The decision to lift immunity is yet another step in President Erdogan’s efforts to tighten his grip on power with the ultimate aim of creating a presidential system, which critics say is an attempt to introduce a “one-man rule” dictatorship. This amounts to a political coup that demands a proportionate response.

It is an alarming fact that Turkey has become increasing intolerant in recent months with prosecutions of journalists and attacks on political opposition to the ruling AKP. The parliamentary vote in favour of lifting immunity marks another dangerous assault on Turkey’s democracy.

As feared, the bill to lift immunity has been passed by the Turkish Parliament. The bill was supported by 376 MPs out of a total of 550 in a third and final vote on 20 May 2016.

Although deputies from other opposition parties will be threatened by the decision, it is clear that the main target of this legislation is the HDP deputies.

That was made perfectly clear by Erdogan himself in his strident accusations against the HDP whose deputies he has accused of “operating as a branch of a terrorist organisation”.

There are reported to be 139 deputies in total who may be targeted by legal action.

There are said to be 41 cases pending against the HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas which the courts will be allowed to pursue now that the immunity is to be lifted.

The HDP MPs face prosecution, removal from office and imprisonment in a return to the autocratic measures of the 1980s and 1990s which people in Turkey had hoped never to see return. It could be the start of another very dark chapter in modern Turkish politics.

The Kurdish people who elected them have supported the firm stand taken by the HDP in Parliament on the urgent need to reopen peace talks. For this, the HDP deputies incurred the wrath of Erdogan and the AKP.

The 59 HDP deputies now face – real prospects of prosecution and imprisonment.

This would be nothing less than a politically inspired punishment of the HDP for their courageous stand on the need for a negotiated peace with the Kurds. For making this stand the HDP deputies are branded as acting on behalf of terrorists.

It must be understood that these charges and accusations are facilitated by and rooted in Turkey’s sweeping anti-terrorism law which is profoundly anti-democratic in itself.

The lifting of immunity takes Turkey closer towards a dictatorial one-man rule and greater unrest and instability.

It will be seen as a direct attack on Kurdish political representation and will block the democratic route to resolving political disputes.

At the same time as the vote to lift immunity was being considered, Turkey saw Binali Yıldırım, an Erdogan loyalist, become the country’s new Prime Minister, who on assuming office immediately vowed to introduce the presidential system, signalling his total subservience to Erdogan’s whims. This is a disturbing sign that Turkey’s democracy is at risk – from the party in power, not from the Kurds.

The danger now is that Kurds will be driven from participation in Turkish politics in the understandable belief that it is an unfair system with the odds stacked against them.

If Kurdish voters come to see that the people they have chosen in successive ballots are to be humiliated and dragged forcibly from parliament, they will surely become totally alienated from the political system.

The removal of immunity threatens to shut the door on the Kurds and to deny them political representation. It will tell them – that their grievances and legitimate demands cannot be resolved through normal political processes.

The damage done to Turkey’s democracy will be immense. The European Union cannot remain silent. The alarm bells should be ringing. Political leaders in the UK and across Europe must speak out – unambiguously on the dangerous developments taking place in Turkish politics.

The UK and other European governments must condemn the removal of immunity from Turkish MPs.

All democratic individuals and political parties in the UK must oppose the criminalisation of the political opposition in Turkey.

We call upon the British government to demand of the Turkish government that it seeks a peaceful political solution to the conflict in Turkey and ends its war on its Kurdish citizens.

Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell – Tel: 020 7272 7890
Patrons: Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Kate Osamor MP, Elfyn Llwyd, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, John Austin, Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary,  Simon Dubbins. UNITE International Director Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Mark Thomas, Nick Hildyard, Stephen Smellie, Derek Wall, Melanie Gingell