The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found that the Turkish executive violated the rights of Filiz Kerestecioğlu, a pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) legislator, by removing her parliamentary immunity, subsequently opening her up to prosecution.
The court found that, by withdrawing Kerestecioğlu’s immunity, the Turkish government had infringed her rights to freedom of expression and assembly, with Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights judged to have been contravened. A fine of 5,000 Euros for non-pecuniary damages and 4,000 Euros for costs and expenses was imposed.
According to a ECtHR press release, Kerestecioğlu’s application argued that the removal of her parliamentary immunity was based entirely on her political opinions and therefore, in addition to Article 10, violated Articles 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion), 11 (freedom of assembly and association) and 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) of the Convention.
The court referred to the case of imprisoned HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş in their decision, stating that the constitutional amendment of 20 May 2016, removing immunity from prosecution for elected representatives, was part of terrorism prevention measures and therefore “sought to restrict the political speech of parliamentarians”, adding that:
“the withdrawal of the applicant’s parliamentary immunity through the constitutional amendment constituted in itself an interference with her right under Article 10 of the Convention”
The amendment also states that parliamentary immunity is to be removed if a “request for waiver of immunity was submitted to the competent authorities before the date of adoption”. This clause is relevant to the case of Kerestecioğlu as she was targeted by an investigatory report concerning her participation in a February 2016 meeting where “provocative” slogans were chanted. The report, drawn up by a public prosecutor, had a view to withdrawing Kerestecioğlu’s immunity and was submitted to the Turkish Ministry of Justice on 9 May 2016.
Many HDP legislators, whose immunity was withdrawn following the adoption of the aforementioned amendment, have made individual applications to the ECtHR and expect the same decision to be given in their cases.
In recent years, the Turkish government has implemented an array of suppressive measures against the HDP. President Erdogan has long accused the HDP of being a part of the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), a group that have been outlawed by Turkey and its allies. Proponents of greater protections for minority rights, social equality and reformed democratic procedure in Turkey, efforts to inhibit the HDP’s capacity to operate have only intensified in 2021.
On 17 March, Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent HDP legislator, was stripped of his parliamentary membership and convicted of “spreading terrorist propaganda” on the basis of a 2016 social media post.
Just a few days later, a top Turkish prosecutor introduced a case demanding the dissolution of the HDP for alleged collusion with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a banned militant movement.
The Turkish government must accept the judgement of the ECtHR and ensure that the fundamental rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights are protected adequately.