Today, ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch submitted a third-party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding the cases of 12 detained Members of Parliament (MPs) in Turkey, including co-leaders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ Şenoğlu.
The MPs face potential jail sentences of hundreds of years, under terrorism charges relating to their speeches or attendance at demonstrations. While MPs usually benefit from immunity from criminal prosecution, a constitutional amendment passed by the parliament in May 2016 allowed a one-time removal of immunity for all MPs currently under investigation. In the month leading up to the amendment there was a significant increase in the number of investigations opened against HDP MPs.
The legal representatives of the MPs took their cases to the ECtHR, arguing that the pre-trial detention violates their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, the right to be free from arbitrary detention and the right to free elections.
Third-party interventions do not examine or argue the case directly, which is the role of the lawyers taking the case to the Court, but rather provide contextual information or clarifications on legal issues arising from the case. In this case, the intervention provides submissions on the correct approach to freedom of expression for parliamentarians, the context of the lifting of parliamentary and the arbitrary use of the criminal law to seek to silence dissenting voices.
The intervention argues that the amendment lifting MPs’ immunities itself violates the right to freedom of expression, since it gave the executive branch the power to decide to whom the immunity would apply and had a disproportionate impact on the HDP. The politically-motivated targeting of an opposition party also has the effect of chilling free speech and will likely lead to self-censorship.
“In Turkey’s political context, where democratic institutions have been repeatedly attacked, parliamentary immunity is even more crucial;” said Gabrielle Guillemin, Senior Legal Officer at ARTICLE 19. “Due to their extended pre-trial detention, the MPs were prevented from voting on significant reforms, including the Constitutional amendment increasing the power of the presidency. Voting in parliament is a form of expression that should be explicitly protected by Article 10;” she added.
Through the intervention, ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch invited the Court to consider that the detention of the MPs violates their right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly and their right to free elections by preventing them from speaking and voting in parliament. While the case at hand relates to their detention, the prosecutions themselves relate to the expression of the MPs and are likely an arbitrary interference with their right to free expression. Furthermore, considering the disproportionate effect of the lifting of immunities on opposition MPs and the HDP in particular, the intervention calls on the Court to consider that the lifting of immunity, the subsequent prosecutions and detentions were politically motivated.