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Fist Fights and Slurs as Turkey Moves to Strip 'Terrorist' MPs of Immunity

Turkish politicians have been fist-fighting over a controversial proposal to strip members of parliaments of immunity from prosecution, which it's alleged is aimed at Kurds only.
Members of Turkey's ruling party Justice and Development Party and opposition parties throw punches during a brawl in February 2015. Photo via EPA

A Turkish parliamentary committee proposal to to strip lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution will be used to target the pro-Kurdish opposition party with terrorism charges and suppress dissent, say members, with analysts warning it will prevent any resolution to the violence that has been raging in the country for months.

The controversial constitutional amendment, which was originally tabled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was approved unanimously by the committee late Monday.


Hours earlier, the committee's debate over the legislation had degenerated into a brawl between members of the APK and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). Video of the incident showed members of parliament punching, kicking, and hurling glasses at each other as others launched themselves into the fray from meeting room tables. HDP deputy chair Idris Baluken was subsequently hospitalized with a dislocated shoulder, the party said.

An AKP member is heard to shout "Child of ASALA" at the HDP's ethnic-Armenian Garo Paylan, a slur referencing terrorist group the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia. Monday's meeting was itself the result of a postponement following another brawl on Thursday.

The most recent fight started when an AKP MP told an an HDP MP "I'll shoot you," according to HDP's Twitter account.

The HDP walked out of last night's debate following the ruckus, but the remaining politicians from the AKP, as well as the secular Republican People's Party (CHP) and far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) reached unanimous agreement, the pro-government Daily Sabah reported.

.— HDP English (@HDPenglish)May 2, 2016

Turkish members of parliament are immune from prosecution while in office, although police are able to submit investigative "dossiers" that could lead to prosecution after their terms are over. The newly proposed bill, which still requires approval from the full parliamentary assembly, would will lift immunity for those currently facing investigations and allow officials to levy terror charges at members of the HDP which could result in them facing trial.


Previous governments have used similar tactics against the HDP's pro-Kurdish predecessors. While this proposal is framed more generally, its main target will be the HDP's parliamentarians, said Chatham House Associate Fellow Fadi Hakura.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called for HDP party members to be prosecuted, describing them as terrorists not politicians and seeking to portray the party as a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

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Relations between Erdogan and the HDP have been acrimonious for some time, and deteriorated sharply since June 2015's general election, which saw the pro-Kurdish party pass the 10 percent vote threshold required to secure a parliamentary presence for the first time. In the process, it blocked Erdogan's AKP from gaining a majority large enough to fulfil his ambition of altering the constitution and transferring executive powers to his office.

The AKP was left unable to form a government alone and had to engage in ultimately unsuccessful coalition talks with the CHP and MHP, before Erdogan eventually called a snap election for November. In the meantime, fighting between the PKK and Turkish state flared, quickly devolving into the bloodiest spate of violence between the two since the 1990s.

Hakura warned that the likely decision to strip immunity would complicate any prospect of a resolution to current violence between the PKK and Turkish security forces, by effectively eliminating negotiations with the elected representatives of Kurdish nationalists.

"We are seeing a return of past episodes of political or judicial interference in political parties and political representatives, particularly those who have fallen foul of state policy," he said. "Stripping the HDP MPs of their immunity and launching criminal prosecutions will not resolve the Kurdish issue in Turkey… on the contrary it will complicate the Kurdish issue."

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