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Turkey passes bill to strip politicians of immunity

The move paves the way for the trials of several pro-Kurdish and other legislators.


Turkey's parliament has ratified a bill that will strip some legislators of immunity from prosecution - a move members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) say targets them.

Championed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the bill will amend the constitution, adding a temporary clause to remove immunity from a total of 138 deputies - the exact number who are currently facing criminal investigations.

Currently, 51 opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) members of parliament, 50 HDP MPs, 27 AKP MPs, nine Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) MPs and one independent are facing investigations.

In a secret ballot on Friday, the bill gained the backing of 376 of the 550 parliamentarians.

AKP and MHP have been accusing pro-Kurdish MPs of taking advantage of their parliamentary immunity to support the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an armed group the government accuses of "terrorism".

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously called for members of the HDP to face prosecution, accusing them of being the PKK's political wing.

The HDP strongly denies this claim, accusing the government of engineering this law in an effort to empty parliament of pro-Kurdish voices.

"This is an attack on us. The immunity bill is targeting the HDP because we're getting stronger," Meral Bestas, a member of HDP, said. "After the elections, we saw that Turkey was on the road to a real democracy which included everyone.

"The HDP is supported by millions of voters and that's why it is seen as an obstacle to the ruling party."

Before the vote, the pro-Kurdish party, which has 59 MPs in the Turkish parliament, also carried the issue to the European Parliament in an open letter.

"If passed, this motion would suspend Article 83 of the Constitution, which guarantees parliamentary immunity, through addition of a provisional clause," wrote Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, co-leaders of the HDP.

"Lifting parliamentary immunity with such an anti-constitutional move would extend the Erdogan-AKP bloc's monopolistic grip on the legislative body."

The ruling AKP points to the fact that 27 of its own members have lawsuits against them and lifting immunity shows that no one is above the law.

According to the members of the party, it is a step that furthers Turkish democracy.

"If we wanted to target HDP MPs we could have, but we didn't," Ayhan Ustun, an AKP parliamentarian who himself is facing criminal charges, said.

"Instead this bill applies to all MPs, including AKP, CHP, MHP and the HDP. If we wanted we could have limited the bill to terrorism cases and the people would have supported us."

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