Turkish parliament strips jailed opposition lawmaker of status

Turkish parliament strips jailed opposition lawmaker of status

ANKARA (Reuters): Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday stripped a jailed opposition lawmaker of his status following a judicial ruling, further complicating an unprecedented clash between two of the country’s top courts.

Can Atalay, 47, was elected to parliament last May representing the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP) – an ally of the large pro-Kurdish DEM party – while serving an 18-year prison sentence.

Atalay was sentenced in April 2022 after being convicted of trying to overthrow the government by allegedly organizing the nationwide Gezi Park protests in 2013 with Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala, also now jailed, and six others.

All defendants denied the charges against them. The protests marked the biggest popular challenge to Tayyip Erdogan during his two decades in power, first as prime minister and then as president.

Atalay was able to run in the May parliamentary election as Turkey’s top appeals court, the Court of Cassation, had not upheld his conviction at the time. But the court upheld Atalay’s conviction in September, complicating the case.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court then ruled twice, in October and December, that his imprisonment violated Atalay’s right to be elected. But the Court of Cassation refused on both occasions to release him, arguing that the Constitutional Court’s decision was unconstitutional, a move that stoked a judicial crisis.

Parliament’s deputy speaker Bekir Bozdag, a member of Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, announced on Tuesday after a heated debate in the general assembly that the Court of Cassation ruling upheld Atalay’s conviction, prompting the formal removal of his status as a member of parliament.

The chair of Atalay’s party, Erkan Bas, branded the Court of Cassation move as “unconstitutional” and said parliament had also violated the constitution by stripping the jailed lawmaker of his status. Other opposition parties also criticized the move.

Erdogan has previously called for a new constitution to resolve the clash between Turkey’s top courts but his party has not come up with any proposal on the issue.