ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament on Thursday stripped three opposition party deputies of their legislative seats, setting off a raucous protest inside the assembly hall by colleagues who accused the ruling party of an assault on democracy.
Deputy speaker Sureyya Sadi Bilgic read out appeals court decisions confirming the legislators' convictions, a process that automatically leads to the deputies’ losing their legal immunity and parliamentary seats.
Opposition legislators banged on their desks and chanted slogans denouncing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, as “the enemy of democracy.”
The move came as tensions in parliament were already running high over a contentious bill that would grant neighborhood watchmen similar powers as the country’s regular police force.
The legislators are Enis Berberoglu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, who went on trial on espionage charges for allegedly leaking to an opposition newspaper images that allegedly showed Turkey’s intelligence agency smuggling weapons into Syria, and Leyla Guven and Musa Farisoglullari of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, who were convicted of links to Kurdish rebels. The parties deny the accusations and maintain that the cases against the legislators are politically-motivated.
The CHP maintains Berberoglu was stripped of his status and legal immunity prematurely, arguing that his case is still being reviewed by Turkey’s highest court. The party also says the AK Party broke away with the tradition of delaying the reading of the court decisions until the end of the legislative term.
Emin Akbasoglu, a senior AK Party legislator, said the move was in line with the Turkish Constitution.
“The HDP and CHP’s positions that openly praise the crime and the criminal is unacceptable,” he said.
Berberoglu said he would hand himself over to authorities to serve his 18-month prison term.