Any move by Turkey’s parliament to use an opposition politician’s wrongful conviction for a social media post as a pretext to strip him of his parliamentary seat and jail him would compound the serious violation of his right to freedom of expression and violate the voters’ right to choose their representatives, Human Rights Watch said on March 16.
Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu is one of the most outspoken critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government’s "appalling record on human rights," the non-governmental organization said.
“Any move to strip Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu of his parliamentary seat as a prelude to jailing him would look like a reprisal by the Erdoğan government for his brave and vocal stance in support of thousands of victims of human rights violations,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Gergerlioğlu’s conviction is a blatant violation of his right to free speech and using it as a pretext to expel him from parliament would show deep disdain for democratic norms and the right to political association.”
Gergerlioğlu, a physician and longtime human rights advocate, was found guilty in February 2018 of “spreading terrorism propaganda” on the basis of a 2016 social media post that did not advocate violence.
Turkey’s top appeals court upheld the conviction and sentence of two years and six months in prison on Feb. 19. On March 15, the Turkish Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop indicated that steps to strip Gergerlioğlu of his seat may be imminent, though Gergerlioğlu has filed a Constitutional Court challenge to the prosecution against him.
“The deeply flawed conviction of Gergerlioğlu for a social media posting should not become the pretext to expel him from parliament and into jail,” Williamson said. “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.”
In recent weeks Gergerlioğlu has raised the issue of routinely reported strip searches of women taken into custody as a cruel and degrading practice. His work to highlight the issue has received wide coverage in the Turkish media but has been met with full or partial denials by the prison authorities and members of parliament from the ruling coalition.