Former MP’s social media post doesn’t constitute a crime, top court says

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Turkey’s Constitutional Court has announced its reasoned decision regarding the ruling that paved the way for the release of the former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy and human rights advocate Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, explaining that the MP’s 2016 social media post, which formed the basis of his conviction, doesn’t constitute a crime, local media reported on Thursday.

Gergerlioğlu was stripped of his status in parliament on March 17 after conviction of disseminating “terrorist propaganda” in a 2016 social media post, where he commented on a story that reported on outlawed Kurdish militants calling on the Turkish state to take a step towards peace. He was taken into custody on April 2 and sent to prison.

The top court on July 1 ruled that Gergerlioğlu’s right to stand for election and engage in political activities as well as his right to freedom of expression, liberty and security were violated through his imprisonment, paving the way for his release on July 6.

The court on Thursday stated in its reasoned opinion that the story reporting on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), on which Gergerlioğlu commented in the 2016 post, didn’t involve any statements that can be interpreted as “incitement to violence.”

“What constituted the violation of freedom of expression was considering [the act of] sharing a [social media] post as support for a statement of an outlawed organization, solely on the grounds that it [the shared post] included [a story reporting on] the statement,” the court said.

The top court added: “Considering the act of reporting on the statement of a terrorist organization that is definitely newsworthy … as ‘an attempt to legitimize the terrorist organization’ would make it impossible for the press to fulfill its basic duties and to report.”

Underlining that there had been no investigations launched into the story on the PKK statement, which is still accessible to the public, the court argued that the intervention in Gergerlioğlu’s right to freedom of expression did not comply with the requirements of a democratic social order.

Gergerlioğlu was attacked by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers in December after he brought widespread claims of strip-searches and harassment in prisons and detention centers to the floor of parliament.

The revocation of the MP’s status reduced the HDP’s seats in the 600-member assembly to 55. The parliamentary status of two other HDP lawmakers was removed last year due to convictions against them.

The AKP government accuses the HDP of links to the outlawed PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU. The party denies the government’s claim and says it is working to achieve a peaceful solution to Turkey’s Kurdish problem. Hundreds of HDP politicians, including the party’s former co-chairs, are behind bars on terrorism charges.

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