Council of Europe rebukes Turkey for removing lawmakers' immunity

Turkey must restore the legal immunity of lawmakers, a key body of the Council of Europe said in a report issued Monday, challenging the process of removing their inviolability and warning that the country has a problem protecting freedom of expression.

"The current situation in the Turkish judiciary makes this the worst possible moment to abolish inviolability," said the report by the European Commission for Democracy Through Law.

Since the July 15 failed coup attempt in Turkey, and even before, the country has been purging prosecutors and judges accused of having links to the Islamic movement of US-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen. The government blames the coup on Gulen, but he denies this.

In May, Turkey's parliament - where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) holds the majority - voted to lift the immunity of more than 135 members of parliament.

The move ended up affecting 55 out of the 59 members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). Since then, HDP leaders have found themselves facing prosecution that could result in lengthy jail time.

The measure passed through a complex, temporary constitutional amendment, which the European report said "violates the principle of equality." The report also argued in favour of strengthening the inviolability of lawmakers, to ensure greater freedom of speech.

Critics of Erdogan, who was prime minister from 2003 before becoming president in 2014, say he is growing increasingly authoritarian and stifling opposition, including through the shuttering of opposition media outlets and jailing of journalists.

Last update: Mon, 17/10/2016 - 14:16

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