EU on immunities: Practice what you preach

Published 13.06.2016 00:49

The European Union has no problem lifting the immunities of parliamentarians even if their actions are not lethal

The month-long political debate over parliamentary immunities in Turkey has ended. On May 20, Parliament adopted a resolution that allows courts to put on trial 139 lawmakers, against whom there were 682 cases at the time. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week signed the bill into law, clearing the path for legal proceedings against these parliamentarians. Public debate is sure to focus on the judiciary over the coming months.

Before the legal proceedings begin, it is necessary to keep three things in mind.

First, Parliament moved to lift the immunities of 139 lawmakers over ongoing efforts by the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the PKK's political wing, to legitimize and facilitate terrorist attacks. A few cases, among others, have been the subject of public debate.

HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş in September 2013 called on his party's supporters to take to the streets. The ensuing clashes claimed more than 50 civilian casualties. CCTV footage showing HDP deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız transporting PKK weapons in his automobile surfaced in July 2015. Tuba Hezer, another HDP deputy, attended the funeral of Abdülbaki Sömer, the PKK suicide bomber who blew himself up in capital Ankara in February 2016. Finally, HDP deputies have repeatedly endorsed the PKK's urban warfare tactics.

The bottom line is that some HDP deputies offered logistical support to the PKK while others contributed to the organization's propaganda.

Second, the PKK, from which HDP deputies refuse to distance themselves, is not an advocacy group promoting freedom of speech or human rights. In recent decades, the organization has claimed thousands of lives.

Since July 2015, security forces have neutralized more than 7,000 PKK militants. During the same period, over 400 members of the security forces lost their lives in clashes with the PKK. PKK bombings in Ankara, Istanbul and Diyarbakır have killed more than 100 people. The PKK's return to violence and adoption of urban warfare tactics turned residential areas across the southeast into conflict zones and displaced tens of thousands of civilians.

Third, with rising civilian casualties, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and other opposition parties turned their backs on the HDP, the PKK's political wing. Consequently, Parliament moved to strip these deputies of their legal immunity with support from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the CHP.

The European Union, however, continues to ignore the facts. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn referred to Parliament's decision as "a matter of serious concern." European Parliament President Martin Schulz added that Turkey's recent moves represented "a stunning rejection of European values."

European leaders, however, do not practice what they preach.

In recent years, multiple national parliaments lifted the immunities of elected officials over terrorist propaganda on defamation charges. In 2014, Germany stripped Nicole Gohlke, a member of the extreme-left Die Linke party, of her legal immunity over her participation in a pro-PKK demonstration where she waved the organization's flag. In 2008, Austria lifted the immunity of Peter Westenthaller for cursing at police officers. The French parliament in 2011 lifted the immunity of Marine Le Pen over her insults of the Muslim community. Four years later, French authorities launched an investigation into Le Pen's dissemination of graphic images from a DAESH terrorist attack. In 2011, Spain's Constitutional Court upheld a court ruling in favor of banning Herri Batasuna, the political wing of Basque Country and Freedom (ETA).

European Parliament has been no less willing to bring parliamentarians to justice. In 2011, European Parliament lifted the immunity of Bruno Gollnisch, a far-right politician, over insulting Muslims in France. Again in 2015, it lifted the immunity of Bela Kovasc, a Hungarian politician who was accused of spying on behalf of the Russian government.

Again, there are many more examples, but the above cases are enough to establish that the European Union has no problem lifting the immunities of parliamentarians even if their actions are not lethal. In this sense, it is difficult to understand why European leaders would have a problem with Turkey's efforts against a terrorist organization that has been killing soldiers, police officers and innocent civilians.

European leaders, furthermore, are setting a dangerous precedent by publicly supporting the HDP's efforts. The EU's support encourages the HDP, which has been unwilling to distance itself from terrorists, to stick to radicalism. By coming out against Parliament's decision, European leaders are hurting Turkish democracy. Finally, they make it possible for the PKK to exploit the immunity debate and distract attention from their deadly campaign.

If the European Union genuinely cares about democracy in Turkey, its leaders should show solidarity with Turkey or else remain silent.

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