Yet another HDP MP is about to be robbed of her parliamentary immunity. A photo had emerged of Semra Güzel with a PKK member who was holding a Kalashnikov, and the majority of parliament ruled that it was so obviously terrorism that she would have to be prosecuted (read: jailed). It’s interesting how much this case reveals about Turkey.
There hasn’t been a parliament vote yet, but a report was issued in favour of the lifting of Semra Güzel’s parliamentary immunity with a majority vote of two against one: CHP and AKP were in favour, HDP against. This is a prelude to the parliamentary vote: all parties, except, of course, the HDP itself, are expected to vote in favour of lifting Güzel’s immunity. In 2016, many HDP MP’s had been robbed of their immunity, and most of them are still behind bars, and several CHP MPs have over the years said that it was a mistake. But this preliminary report was accepted by CHP.
This is not surprising, of course. It’s funny: there are two ‘alliances’ in parliament, and I often have to check again which alliance has which name, but – check, check, and double-check – there is the ‘People’s Alliance’ of AKP and MHP, and the ‘Nation Alliance’ of CHP and IYI Party. The confusion is that it could have been the other way around. In the end, these parties are founded on Turkish nationalism and don’t differ that much at their core. That becomes most clear when there is a vote or debate about anything related to the Kurdish issue: they all agree. They agree that cross-border operations into the Qandil mountains have to continue. They agree on the invasion and occupation of parts of Syria. They agree on a military solution for the Kurdish issue. They agree about the lifting of Semra Güzel’s parliamentary immunity.
Then, the photo that was at the core of this immunity matter: a 2014 picture of her somewhere in the guerrilla-controlled mountains with a friend from university who had since become a PKK member. She was not an HDP member at the time, and although it was not accepted to have pictures taken with PKK members even then, it was right in the middle of the so-called ‘peace process’. There was hope that things would change; there was hope that the state was genuinely working towards a solution to the Kurdish issue.
But that hope was frail. One of the things that revealed the (lack of) seriousness from the state was that any rights that the government acknowledged were never enshrined in the constitution or the law, nor were the broad and multi-interpretable terrorism laws ever changed. It means that anything that can be left unpunished at one time can be punishable at another time. It’s all totally random and political. The picture of Semra Güzel with the PKK fighter is just another example: having such a private picture can be overlooked at one time and be reason to be jailed at another.
What I think also shocks Turks and MPs is that this picture shows, once again, that PKK fighters are not aliens. A member of the Turkish parliament went to university, and a friend she made there is now a PKK fighter and the two meet. There are literally millions of such connections. When I spent a full year with the PKK to research my book ‘This Fire Never Dies’, I saw many people visiting. Not only family members of fighters but also friends and people from all kinds of organisations that wanted to show solidarity were engaged in research or came to teach or get educated. The Turkish media always depicts the PKK as ‘terrorists’, and still, after decades, it seems to shock them to find that average citizens have ties with the fighters who are part of their communities. Semra Güzel is one of many, but she became an MP and had to pay the price.
The last thing we can learn is the current total disregard of the Turkish government for rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). That was already obvious, of course, with the case of Osman Kavala now being assessed by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE) – the wheels of the CoE turn slowly but surely – and with the demand to release Selahattin Demirtaş from jail being ignored, but this week, the ECHR made another important ruling. The lifting of immunity of the HDP MPs in 2016 was ruled to be a violation of the freedom of expression and, therefore, against the European Convention on Human Rights. Meaning: all the HDP MPs jailed after the lifting of their immunity back then must be instantly released. Turkey ignored it, obviously, and showed further disregard for the ruling by taking the first step towards robbing yet another MP of her immunity. Trust me, being on a picture with a PKK fighter is not a legitimate reason to strip an MP of her immunity.
One picture, one immunity lifted, many messages. Free them all!