Pro-Kurdish Lawmaker Detained By Turkish Government

On March 20th, Turkish police detained pro-Kurdish lawmaker and human rights activist Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu. The lawmaker had spent four nights protesting the removal of his MP status in parliament. Gergerlioğlu, a member of the HDP – Peoples’ Democratic Party, was arrested at party headquarters while in his pajamas. He was preparing to do morning prayers and was denied the chance to put on his mask. Gergerlioğlu was stripped of his MP status and his immunity for spreading terrorist propaganda on Twitter by linking a news story. He  was detained and questioned about alleged chants, including “Long live leader Apo.”

Gergerlioğlu has claimed that the charges made against him were “made up” and fabricated in order to get him out of parliament. Merve Tahiroglu, a Turkish program coordinator came to his defence by saying, “The Turkish government cannot stand people like Gergerlioğlu who fervently defend human rights and pose an unwavering opposition to its authoritarian tactics.” Tahiroglu adds that Gergerlioğlu was branded a terrorist by a “politicized judiciary,” which is done to many human rights activists in Turkey. Turkey’s Western allies have condemned the decision to shut down the HDP. However, Turkish President Erdoğan’s ruling party defended the decision.

This arrest is unlawful and undemocratic. Ömer Gergerlioğlu was and is a human rights activist, and it appears that he was detained for the sole purpose of removing him from parliament so that he could be tried for his other “crime,” linking an article on Twitter. The Erdoğan government’s dislike for Gergerlioğlu is clear, and his detainment is likewise distasteful. Democracies don’t silence their critics, even when they’re espousing ideas they don’t agree with.

In 2016, Gergerlioğlu linked an article on his Twitter that was about a peace call by the Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK). The PKK has been deemed a terrorist party since 1999 by Turkey, the EU, and The United States; however, their history is complicated. The Kurds and the Turkish have a historical battle over land, with the Kurds claiming that much of Turkey actually is a part of Kurdistan. Due to the redistribution of land after WWII by countries like France and Britain, it’s not easy to say who’s in the right, and the Turks and Kurds are often in conflict over this land.

Allowing this kind of arrest to go unchecked is dangerous to a democracy and to Turkish peace. The conflict between Turkey’s government and human rights activists, as well as pro-Kurdish lawmakers, is certainly not something new. Turkey’s government has branded Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu a terrorist using a politicized court and possibly invented a reason to detain him to remove him from parliament. It’s dangerous to any democracy, but particularly a young democracy during a time of conflict, to make this kind of unlawful detainment which could provoke further unrest.

Luke Williams
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