Human rights activist democracy struggle in Turkey

Mar 29, 2021 | International

Human rights activist Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu was in his fourth day of being holed up in Turkey’s parliament and was in his pyjamas and slippers in a bathroom preparing for morning prayers.

The elected Turkish MP with the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is a pulmonologist who was stripped of his ability to work in 2017 and who has been targeted by authorities for unveiling human rights violations that significantly increased after the coup attempt in 2020.

He has publicly unearthed many incidents of torture that took place in the police stations and prisons where political prisoners were kept. In reaction, authorities nulled Gergerlioglu’s position as an MP.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu is under custody in the police station with his pyjamas and slippers on March 21.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu under custody in the police station with his pyjamas and slippers on March 21. Photo credit: Courtesy Salih Gergerlioğlu

And now he’s a target of Turkey’s crackdown on the Kurdish political party. Gergerlioglu was heading to one of the Ankara legislature’s bathrooms when a phalanx of police swarmed him and took him into custody on March 21.

“My father became a voice for the problems of all segments of the people. Especially he brought up the ‘stripped search’ scandal,” said his son Salih Gergerlioglu, who is a law student.

The regime’s political attacks against Gergerlioglu increased when the statesman unveiled police were conducting illegal strip-searches on women detainees. Later, he was sentenced to a two-and-a-half-year prison term on Feb 19, 2021, by the country’s Court of Appeal after being accused of promoting terrorist propaganda on an online news story he shared in a 2016 Twitter message.

The court based its verdict on the headline of the news article “PKK: If the state takes a step, the peace comes within one month.” The Kurdistan Workers Party, a militant political organization that has fought Turkey for decades, offered an olive branch to the country.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu in the middle and his Son Salih Gergerlioğlu on the right keep guarding in the Parliament office the third day of the resistance, on March 20.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, left, and his son Salih Gergerlioğlu in a parliament office the third day of the resistance, March 20. Photo credit: Salih Gergerlioglu

“I made a peaceful sharing on social media,” the elder Gergeerlioglu said. “I am being punished because of offering a peaceful solution for the Kurd issue.”

Feyza Yilmaz, a dismissed Turkish academician and lawyer who lives in Germany, said she interpreted the verdict as a political decision, which the court was used to impose a political decision against Gergeerlioglu.

“The words, writings and behaviours that are in the nature of heavy criticism of government policies, politicians or public officials cannot be considered as propaganda offences,” Yilmaz said.

The parliamentary status of Gergerlioglu was revoked on March 17 following the court decision. He found this decision unjustified and announced “I am not recognizing this decision.”

Then, he decided to resist by staying in the parliament building.

“We knew that my father would resist in parliament, but we did not know how much they would allow this resistance,” Salih said.

Gergerlioglu did not leave his party’s headquarters in parliament for four days and other deputies from the same party supported him and set up a mattress for him on the office floor.

When he went to the washroom to prepare for the morning prayer, he was detained.

“A hundred police officers, who were waiting in ambush on both sides of the corridor, immediately took action and blocked the entrance of the washroom,” Salih said.

Two HDP MPs who were accompanying him video recorded the police operation.

The footage shows police refused Gergerlioglu’s request to leave with authorities after performing the morning prayer and intends on suing them.

His son said the police tried to convince his father to withdraw his complaint about the officers but Gergergioglu did not change his mind and was released the same day.

“I was beaten under the police custody,” Gergerlioglu said. “This is (stated) by the doctor`s report.”

Salih said his father beaten while into custody wearing his pyjamas and slippers.

“My father unearthed torture and this situation greatly annoyed the government. We are getting life threats,” Salih said.

The detention order against him was not about the final decision of the court but because of footage recorded a few years ago. The prosecutor considered the slogans in the video an act of terrorism even though Gergerlioglu was not in the footage, he was listed among the suspects.

During this political turmoil, the Turkish Supreme Court announced its indictment to permanently shut down the Kurdish party HDP over the accusations of terrorism.