The continued imprisonment of Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) MP Can Atalay is a violation of his right to personal freedom as well as his right and that of his constituency to participate in elections in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay, the country’s Constitutional Court said in a ruling on Wednesday.
The MP had appealed to the court demanding his release and a pause in the legal proceedings following his election in May, due to the parliamentary immunity it grants him.
Atalay is a lawyer who came into the public eye with his defence of Ahmet Şık, a fellow TİP MP, when Şık faced trial over his investigative journalism and his book on corruption in Turkey’s police force. He later defended victims of Turkey’s largest mining accident, and played a pivotal role in the Gezi Park protests.
Atalay was “elected by the will of the people of Hatay”, TİP said in a statement demanding the immediate release of the MP.
The ruling of the court “must be implemented immediately”, the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP) said in a statement. “End the policy of highjacking the will of the people!”
Turkish Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç told reporters that any action on the ruling would be taken after the top court released its explanation of the ruling. “If there is a violation of rights, we must look at the reasoning in the ruling”, he said.
The Court of Cassation had rejected Atalay’s appeal, saying the Constitution made an exception for “activities targeting the indivisible unity of the state”.
Atalay’s 18 year sentence was due to his role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests, which started as a small sit-in by urban activists to defend one of the last parks in the heart of Istanbul, but snowballed into massive anti-government protests that saw some four million people take to the streets in several months of demonstrations.
Several other MPs have been released from pre-trial detention following election over the years, the Constitutional Court itself creating precedent, as explained by İbrahim Kaboğlu, professor of constitutional law and a former MP, to reporters at the time.
Minister Tunç previously argued that the Gezi trial was one of the “special” cases that “fall outside the scope of immunity”.
As per the Constitutional Court’s ruling, Atalay is entitled to a re-trial.