On Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan -- who is also the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) -- told his party in a parliamentary address that a political formula to save the jailed deputies from prison would not work and advised politicians to leave the issue to courts and judges. “There cannot be a [political] formula for this [release of jailed deputies]. We have to wait for a decision from judicial bodies,” he said.
The prime minister's remarks followed an earlier announcement by Hüseyin Çelik, the deputy chairman of the AK Party. Çelik told reporters on Monday evening that his party “had reached the conclusion that a formula [for the release of jailed deputies] may bring about different and negative legal consequences as it seems extremely open to abuse.” With the formula, Çelik was referring to a new plan recommended last week by a parliamentary commission to allow jailed deputies to assume their duties in Parliament.
A commission set up earlier this year in Parliament to discuss the issue of jailed deputies convened last week and agreed to recommend that Parliament pass an amendment to an article in the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) for the release of those deputies from prison. The commission is made up of deputies from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The AK Party does not have any members in the commission. Instead, the ruling party assesses proposals made by the commission and determines whether they are in compliance with the law.
The commission has been holding talks under the leadership of Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek over the past weeks to come up with a formula to ensure the release of jailed deputies from prison.
The AK Party convened on Monday to discuss the issue and decided not to support the formula out of fears that the proposed amendment could be abused by “third parties.” “This being the case, the AK Party is not warm to an amendment [to the CMK for the release of jailed deputies]. We [the AK Party] are of the opinion that it would be best to allow courts to make a final decision on this issue,” Çelik told reporters.
Under Article 109 of the CMK, convicted prisoners who are sentenced for up to three years in prison may be released on probation. The article is also applied to suspects who are on trial for a crime that requires up to three years’ imprisonment. The parliamentary commission agreed to ask Parliament to amend the article and take out the three-year condition. The commission had been planning to submit a proposal to Parliament for the amendment of the article in the weeks to come if the AK Party supported its plan. Had the plan been approved in Parliament, nine deputies who are currently in prison on various charges could have been released on probation and allowed to take up their elected positions in Parliament.
The CHP, the MHP and the BDP all have deputies currently in jail, having not been released despite their election to Parliament in the general elections last year. Jailed CHP deputies Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal as well as Engin Alan of the MHP face coup charges, while the six BDP deputies in jail face charges of membership in the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organization that prosecutors say includes the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Courts have the prerogative not to release individuals elected to Parliament if they have terrorism-related charges against them. Article 14 of the Constitution clearly states that an individual on trial for crimes against the “territorial integrity of the state” cannot benefit from diplomatic, parliamentary or any other kind of immunity.
The AK Party has fears that any amendment agreed upon for the release of jailed deputies may make it possible for the administrators of terrorist organizations to run for Parliament. “If the proposal of the opposition parties is passed, people not desired as deputies [such as leaders of terrorist organizations] may obtain the chance to be elected to Parliament. We would not like that,” Çelik asserted.
The AK Party’s decision not to back the opposition plan for the jailed deputies was met with fierce criticism from the opposition parties. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said the prime minister or top AK Party officials should explain why they refused to cooperate with the opposition parties on the plan. “The prime minister or senior AK Party officials should explain what they mean by saying they fear the formula [for the release of jailed deputies] could be abused. If they [the AK Party] have such fears, then they should enable courts to work faster on the situation [of jailed deputies] and solve the issue completely. Those are our deputies, and their being kept in prison cannot be acceptable,” Bahçeli told reporters after addressing his party in Parliament on Tuesday.
In addition, BDP parliamentary group deputy chairman Hasip Kaplan called on Parliament Speaker Çiçek to resign from his position after his failure to convince the AK Party to support the commission’s plan. “I am calling on the parliament speaker. Stop losing time. We expect the parliament speaker to act honestly and submit his resignation to the prime minister soon,” Kaplan stated.
According to Kaplan, the issue regarding the jailed deputies is not the problem of the AK Party or any other political party but the problem of Turkish democracy and Parliament. “The prime minister and the parliament speaker had a meeting and called together representatives from the three opposition parties. They [the AK Party] thought that we [the opposition parties] would not reach a compromise [on a plan to save the jailed deputies from prison]. The real place of those deputies is Parliament,” he said, and added that his BDP would not be the party to leave the negotiating table until the deputies are released from prison.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, on the other hand, declined to comment on the AK Party’s decision not to support the commission’s plan to allow the elected deputies to take their seats in Parliament. The CHP and the BDP held a boycott of Parliament lasting several weeks following last June’s general elections to protest a court’s decision not to release their jailed deputies. The deputies of these parties took the parliamentary oath later than other deputies.