Council of Europe tells Turkey to restore MP’s inviolability

Grand National Assembly of Turkey, June 2015. [Wikimedia]

In its first opinion on Turkey after the failed coup d’état on 15 July, the Council of Europe called today (17 October) on restoring the inviolability of members of parliament, which was infringed by an amendment of the constitution introduced last April.

The so-called “Venice Commission” (the European Commission for Democracy through Law) published a 16-page opinion on the constitutional amendment of 12 April 2016.

The constitutional amendment allows the lifting of parliamentary immunity of those who are prosecuted for criminal cases.

The delegation of the Venice Commission was informed that the Amendment concerned about 800 criminal cases for 139 deputies of the National Assembly:

  • 27 out of 317 deputies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) –majority;
  • 51 out of 133 deputies of the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) –opposition;
  • 51out of 59 deputies for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) –opposition;
  • 9 out of 40 deputies for Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) –opposition;
  • 1 out of 1 independent deputy.

The delegation of the Venice Commission has been informed that following the adoption of the constitutional amendment, most of the MPs in question have been summoned and questioned by prosecutors.

The deputies of the opposition HDP party (representing the Kurdish minority) refused to follow these summons because they contest the validity of the Amendment. It seems that deputies from the other parties followed these summons. So far, none of the 139 deputies has been arrested but HDP representatives expect that the arrest of deputies of their party is imminent.

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The Venice Commission says that the constitutional amendment of 12 April was “a misuse of the constitutional amendment procedure”. In the current situation in Turkey, parliamentary inviolability is an essential guarantee for the functioning of parliament; the current situation in the Turkish Judiciary makes this the worst possible moment to abolish inviolability, the Council of Europe body states.

Freedom of expression of MPs is an essential part of democracy, and the non-violent pursuit of non-violent political goals such as regional autonomy cannot be the subject of criminal prosecution, the Venice Commission further stresses.

It further notes that case-law of the European Court of Human Rights shows that Turkey has a problem with safeguarding freedom of expression, not least with respect to cases considered as propaganda for terrorism.

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