Erdogan Signs Bill Lifting Lawmakers' Immunity

Erdogan Signs Bill Lifting Lawmakers' Immunity

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a bill on Tuesday (June 7) lifting lawmakers' immunity from prosecution, his office said, a constitutional change likely to remove a pro-Kurdish opposition party from parliament.

Erdogan has accused the pro-Kurdish HDP, parliament's third-biggest party, of being the political wing of militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast. He wants to see them prosecuted.

A leader of the HDP, which denies links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), challenged the bill and said they will not be part of judiciary process controlled by Erdogan.

"This law was enacted against the constitution. Our right to appeal was taken away. As we proceed towards a dictatorial regime, we will not accept to be part of a trial that Erdogan wishes for. Therefore, we will not comply with the prosecutor's invitation to give a statement in court. If they want to take us by force, that is their call," Selahattin Demirtas said.

Lawmakers have until now enjoyed immunity from prosecution. The new law allows prosecutors to pursue any of the 138 members of parliament who are currently under investigation. Of those, 101 are from the HDP or Turkey's main opposition party CHP.

HDP fears an overwhelming majority of its 59 deputies could be jailed under the new law, mostly for views they have expressed. Demirtas said it will not be easy to remove his pro-Kurdish opposition party from parliament.

"It is not easy to expel HDP from the parliament. This is just the beginning of this process. We will carry out a powerful struggle in both the political and legal arena. We will never abandon the parliament completely to the AK Party. Our seats there (at the parliament) were obtained by legal means, they were obtained with people's votes," Demirtas said, adding any probable arrest of pro-Kurdish lawmakers would be unlawful and "politically unethical".

Erdogan's opponents say the lifting of immunity is part of a strategy to push the HDP out of parliament, strengthen the ruling AK Party - which he co-founded more than a decade ago - and consolidate support in the assembly for an executive presidential system he has long sought.

The legislation has increased concerns in the European Union about Turkey's record on democracy and human rights at a time when the bloc is also trying to implement a controversial deal with Ankara aimed at stemming illegal migration to Europe from Turkish shores.