The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) submitted a petition on Wednesday in the Turkish Parliament to have the legislative immunity of its 80 deputies lifted.
The party submitted the petition after its leader Selahattin Demirtas said it would do so on Wednesday, although parliamentary regulations do not recognise individual applications regarding immunity cases.
Speaking at his party’s group meeting, Demirtas said “It’s the people who open and close the parties. If people who voted for us with 13 percent would give us 1 percent tomorrow, we would respect them and assume our party is closed. Do you say immunity? With my 80 friends, we will submit a petition to the parliament to lift our immunity tomorrow. If you are not afraid, let’s lift immunities altogether.”
Under Turkish law, members of parliament have immunity from prosecution.
Demirtas’ move came after Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahceli suggested the pro-Kurdish HDP be investigated and closed by Turkish courts over an apparent failure to condemn violence by the outlawed PKK.
Speaking at a press conference early on Tuesday morning before his visit to China, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “I believe the seniors of this party [HDP] should pay the price for their statements. Those who admit that they rely on terrorist organisations should pay the price. But I disagree with party closures.”
Erdogan encouraged the parliament to lift the parliamentary immunity of politicians who are linked with militant organisations.
“Parliament must make them pay a heavy price for their statements by lifting their immunity," he added.
Burhan Kuzu: This is for show
Speaking to TRT World on Demirtas’ statement request for the immunity of his party's deputies to be lifted, former chairman of the Parliamentary Constitutional Commission Burhan Kuzu said it is not possible for deputies to request the lifting of their parliamentary immunities.
“This is for show. The HDP wants to challenge the government. There is no such means to lift parliamentary immunity by individual application. Immunity is not given to them personally, it is an institutional right given to them to do their legislative duties efficiently. If lifting is needed, it will be done without asking them,” said Kuzu.
Kuzu also stated that nearly 1,000 out of 1,200 criminal cases received by the constitutional committee during his time in office regarded HDP deputies.
Vahap Coskun: Lifting immunities is wrong
Questioned on recent developments regarding HDP’s statements over having their immunity lifted, Vahap Coskun - Associate Professor at Dicle University, Faculty of Law - said that lifting immunities or closing a party will have negative effects on Turkey’s democratisation.
Speaking to TRT World, Coskun said “After the outlawed PKK’s armed actions, the HDP was expected to take an attitude against the group. Unfortunately, it did not happen. The HDP made immunity a current issue in order to move the debate on to themselves. But I personally think that lifting the immunity of HDP deputies would be wrong.”
“There is a judicial process to follow regarding lifting parliamentary immunities. What the HDP is doing right now is adopting a particular attitude against their opposition and creating a debate over immunities,” Coskun added.
Regulations prevent individual applications
Despite Demirtas’ request to have the immunity afforded to his party’s deputies lifted, parliamentary regulations do not recognise such a right on behalf of deputies.
The 134th article of Turkey’s parliamentary regulations states that “Applications by individual deputies regarding the lifting of their immunities are not enough to proceed.”
According to the regulations, a court decision charging a deputy with committing a crime is needed in order to lift his or her parliamentary immunity. The process is as follows:
“The court submits an order to lift the deputy’s immunity specifying allegations about him committing a crime. After receiving the cross-examination report, the Parliament Presidency sends it to the Constitutional Justice Joint Commission. The commission investigates the allegations and decides whether to lift immunity or postpone the order until the end of the legislative period. After this, the commission’s decision is voted on in the General Assembly. If immunity s lifted, the deputy is put on trial only for that allegation. The decision to lift immunity must be made for each allegation separately.”
Report issued on lifting of Demirtas’ parliamentary immunity
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor issued a cross-examination report on Wednesday regarding HDP leader Demirtas, accusing him of "exceeding the limits of freedom of speech and expression of opinion.”
The report was issued after governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Suleyman Soylu requested an investigation concerning Demirtas’ allegations against him.
Before the June 7 elections, Demirtas alleged that the AK Party organised a 3,500-member group presided over by Soylu in order to rig the elections and prevent HDP from passing Turkey’s electoral threshold.
The Attorney General decided to request the lifting of Demiras’ immunity under the provisions set out in the 83th article of the Turkish Constitution.