The worsening situation of opposition politicians in Turkey: what can be done to protect their fundamental rights in a Council of Europe member State?

Logo of the Parlamentary assembly Council of Europe

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Thursday adopted a resolution on the worsening situation of opposition politicians in Turkey. Summary of the resolution as follows:

The Monitoring Committee recalls that political opposition in and outside parliament is an essential component of a well-functioning democracy. In that context, it is concerned about the deterioration of the situation of rule of law, democracy and human rights in Turkey, including the stripping of immunity of 154 parliamentarians in 2016, restricted freedom of expression and media, reduced checks and balances in the new presidential system or unfair election processes – which have increasingly diminished, obstructed or undermined the ability of opposition politicians to exercise their rights and fulfil their democratic roles, and resulted in (former) opposition deputies being prosecuted, detained or convicted.

The committee highlights the clear existence of strong prerequisites for democracy in Turkish society, including the citizens’ aspirations for genuine choices between candidates, parties and political programmes. The Assembly should therefore call on the Turkish authorities to respect fully the rights and fundamental freedoms of opposition politicians, in particular to guarantee parliamentary immunity, amend the legislation and constitution in line with the Venice Commission recommendations, lower the 10% electoral threshold, upgrade freedom of expression and media, implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, and further co-operate on these issues with the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly in the framework of its ongoing monitoring procedure.

The PACE called on Turkish authorities to respect fully their rights and freedoms of expression, association and assembly in its preliminary meeting on Thursday. 

The assembly notably expressed its concern over 154 parliamentarians being stripped of their immunity in May 2016 which is said has affected disproportionately the mainly Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). 

The assembly criticised Turkey over restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, the detention and imprisonment of opposition parliamentarians, former parliamentarians and local elected representatives that it said has “obstructed or undermined the ability of opposition politicians to exercise their rights and fulfil their democratic roles both inside and outside parliament”.

The assembly expressed its concerns over the detention and imprisonment of opposition parliamentarians and former parliamentarians in Turkey, including former deputy and former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, deputy Leyla Güven, and former deputy and assembly member Ertuğrul Kürkçü.

Güven, who has been on indefinite hunger strike since Nov. 8 over Turkish authorities treatment to Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been released by a Turkish court in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır on Friday. 

The European parliamentarians also added that European Court of Human Rights in its November 2018 ruling had found that the detention of Demirtaş during two crucial election campaigns, namely the referendum and the presidential election in Turkey, had pursued the “predominant ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate.”

The assembly said that the replacement of over 90 elected mayors from the HDP by government-appointed mayors  had seriously undermined the functioning of local democracy, especially in southeast Turkey

The PACE noted that the worsening of the situation of opposition politicians took place in a context had been marked by continuous restrictive measures introduced by Turkish authorities to silence journalists, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, academics and other dissenting voice.

The assembly also called on Turkey to repeal Article 299 of the penal code on insulting the president and to amend Article 301 on denigrating the Turkish nation, state and republic

The European parliamentarians called Turkey to amend its anti-terror law and lower the 10 percent electoral threshold, which they said impedes the ability of the opposition to be represented in parliament.

The assembly called Turkey to finalise and implement a judicial reform plan and a human rights action plan in cooperation with the Council of Europe, while demanded a review of the constitutional reforms adopted in 2017 with a view to restoring proper balance of and effective separation between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of power. 

To download full resolution please click here.