Turkish police frees politician after detention in assembly

International
Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a human rights advocate and lawmaker from the People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, stands in front with his colleagues sitting in support after the parliament stripped his parliamentary seat, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Turkey has stripped a pro-Kurdish party legislator of his parliamentary seat following his conviction over a 2016 social media post and took steps toward disbanding his party. Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a human rights advocate and lawmaker from the People’s Democratic Party, was convicted over a social media post which the courts deemed to be terrorist propaganda. (AP Photo)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police on Sunday detained a prominent pro-Kurdish party politician who was staging a days-long protest in parliament. He was released after questioning several hours later.

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, from the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, refused to leave parliament after he was stripped of his status and immunity as lawmaker on Wednesday. The party said around 100 police officers entered parliament to detain him. Video of his detention showed police officers dragging him away.

His detention came during a tumultuous weekend in which the Turkish president fired the central bank governor and annulled an international agreement on protecting women from violence. It also follows a heightened crackdown on the HDP.

The party said Gergerlioglu was detained as he was performing his ablutions for morning prayers.

“The police insisted on detaining him, and took him away in his pajamas and slippers,” the HDP said in a statement.

A statement by the prosecutor’s office, quoted by official Anadolu news agency, said Gergerlioglu was detained for not leaving parliament despite losing his status as lawmaker and for slogans chanted by some people during a protest in parliament Wednesday praising the jailed leader of a Kurdish militant group.

Gergerlioglu, speaking on Periscope after his release, described being forced out of parliament by police detaining him and irregularities during his police statement.

“They fabricated a crime to get me out of parliament,” he said.

Gergerlioglu, the former head of an Islamist human rights association, has exposed several human rights violations in Turkey, including alleged illegal strip-searches of detainees by police. He trained and worked as a pulmonologist but was fired through an emergency decree. He advocated for the tens of thousands of other civil servants who were purged in the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt.

Gergerlioglu was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to two years and six months in prison for “spreading terrorist propaganda” after he retweeted a 2016 news article about a call for peace by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. An appeals court confirmed the conviction, saying he was “owning” and “legitimizing” the PKK by sharing the link, which included a photograph of armed fighters.

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, Europe and the United States. It has led an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people. A fragile cease-fire and peace talks collapsed in the summer of 2015.

Supreme Court prosecutors have also filed an indictment at the Constitutional Court for the HDP’s closure this week and are seeking a five-year ban on 687 members’ participation in politics. It is the latest crackdown on the party, which has seen its former leaders, lawmakers and thousands of activists arrested.

HDP is the second-largest opposition party in parliament, elected with more than 5.8 million votes in 2018. The United States and the European Union have criticized the moves.

The Turkish president’s nationalist ally, Devlet Bahceli, had called on the assembly’s speaker to remove Gergerlioglu from the building in a series of tweets Saturday, describing him as a separatist.

“The Grand Turkish National Assembly is not the dorms of separatists or the place where fugitives can take refuge. The dagger in the great Turkish nation’s heart cannot be allowed to nest or tolerated … Laying out a bed in parliament is a dark stain on democracy,” he wrote in one tweet.

Gergerlioglu called his detention “immoral,” saying it was organized by the speaker of the assembly and ordered by Bahceli.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned to the nationalists to cement his power as president and with a combined majority in parliament.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.