Opposition lawmaker arrested, dragged from Turkish parliament at dawn

Opposition lawmaker arrested, dragged from Turkish parliament at dawn
Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a human rights advocate and lawmaker from the People’s Democratic Party, reacts after the parliament stripped his parliamentary seat on March 17, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 22 March 2021

Opposition lawmaker arrested, dragged from Turkish parliament at dawn

Opposition lawmaker arrested, dragged from Turkish parliament at dawn
  • Rights experts warn of rising tide of authoritarianism as government cracks down on critics

ANKARA: After resisting arrest for four days, Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a prominent politician from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was briefly detained inside the assembly building during an overnight operation.

He was detained wearing pajamas and slippers while preparing to perform morning prayers. He was denied the opportunity to put his mask on.

Gergerlioglu was released at around 1:30 p.m., after which he joined the Kurdish celebrations of Nowruz in Ankara.

“My right to perform religious duties was violated,” he wrote in his police statement.

It is the first time that police officers have entered the Turkish parliament to detain a lawmaker, with footage showing him being dragged away from the restroom.

“Ablution” became a trending topic on Twitter after his son, Salih Gergerlioglu, informed the public about the event.

“He was arrested over a video that was shot three or four years ago. But he was even not seen in that video. It seems that it was just an excuse for taking him out of the parliamentary building,” Salih told Arab News.

Facing two-and-a-half years of jail term for terror-related charges, Gergerlioglu was stripped of his parliamentary seat and immunity on March 18. He then protested the decision and refused to leave the parliament building as he appealed to the Constitutional Court. He was waiting for the court’s decision regarding his status as an MP when he was arrested. While staying in the parliament building, he was sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

“Our president’s call was met, Gergerlioglu was thrown out of the parliament with his bed,” tweeted Izzet Yonter, a member from Nationalistic Movement Party, the coalition partner of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

BACKGROUND

• Facing two-and-a-half years of jail term for terror-related charges, Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu was stripped of his parliamentary seat and immunity on March 18.

• He then protested the decision and refused to leave the parliament building as he appealed to the Constitutional Court.

• He was waiting for the court’s decision regarding his status as an MP when he was arrested.

The comment drew harsh reaction from several segments of society.

“Gergerlioglu will again lay his mattress on the floor. I hope you can’t find a place to sleep,” Gonul Tol, director of the Turkey program at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said.

Gergerlioglu is a physician by profession. He was leading an Islamist-leaning human rights association before he was elected to parliament.

He was a thorn in the government’s side as he regularly exposed several human rights violations in the country, including allegations about strip searches of women detainees by police. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu called him a terrorist after his latest exposure.

He was convicted in 2018 for spreading terror propaganda over a news article he retweeted in 2016, two years before he was elected to parliament. The article, which was about a peace call by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, did not result in him facing any criminal proceedings, and is still accessible online.

“The Turkish government cannot stand people like Gergerlioglu who fervently defend human rights and pose an unwavering opposition to its authoritarian tactics,” Merve Tahiroglu, program coordinator at the Project on Middle East Democracy, told Arab News.

“The government is doing to him what it has done to all prominent human rights defenders in Turkey: Using a politicized judiciary to brand him as a terrorist — over a news article that he shared on social media years ago,” she added.

On Friday, a Supreme Court prosecutor also filed an indictment at the Constitutional Court for the closure of the HDP and sought a five-year political ban on 687 members of the party — a move seen as another attempt of crackdown on the third-largest party of the parliament.

The same day, several district officials and human rights’ defenders were arrested in countrywide operations.

According to Tahiroglu: “With the unjust removal of Gergerlioglu from parliament, Turkey will lose not only an elected representative of a major political party, but also a key lawmaker who put human rights first and acted as the voice of all citizens facing injustice.”