Human Rights And Politics
How a Lone Human Rights Champion Scares the Government in Turkey
A Turkish court’s approval of a prison sentence against a lawmaker reveals the depth of anxiety in the government regarding human rights activism.
Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu.
A physician. A former academic. A citizen. A father. A lawmaker and a human rights activist. One of the most iconic figures of the post-2016 era is now facing what hundreds of thousands already went through: imprisonment.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld a prison sentence against the lawmaker, paving the way for the deprivation of his seat in Parliament in the latest setback for human rights efforts in Turkey.
“It has been determined that the suspect has shared a link to a news article that included a statement by the PKK armed terrorist organisation, and in doing so aimed to embrace the statement, increase public sympathy for the organisation and garner up active support for it,” the court statement reads, according to a quote by Ahval news. What was cited by the court was a news article share by Gergerlioglu, dating back to August 2016.
Both the court’s ruling and the subsequent public uproar tell a lot about the government’s unmasked fear and the lawmaker’s strong appeal in a society gripped by an endless political clampdown over the past years. The very name of Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu has been etched in public memory as the embodiment of courage, defiance, and dedicated fight for human rights in Turkey where such norms are trampled by the government with impunity.
When the long-anticipated news broke out, thousands vented their frustration with the verdict on social media, expressing a torrent of support for Gergerlioglu who has long been in the vanguard of defending human rights in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly. Kati Piri, EU Parliament’s former rapporteur on Turkey, noted that “Erdogan’s Turkey uses judiciary as an instrument of oppression” seemingly to silence the outspoken rights activist. Nacho Sánchez Amor, a leading member of the EU Parliament who oversees relations with Turkey, also registered his disapproval over the verdict, calling on the EU to show a strong reaction against the punishment of the Turkish lawmaker.
Gergerlioglu’s personal story contains all the elements of Turkey’s recent political course. Formerly a physician, he was sacked by a blanket decree during the emergency rule. Even before the botched coup upended Turkey’s democratic politics in 2016, Gergerlioglu’s pioneering role as the head of conservative human rights group MAZLUMDER landed him on the radar of authorities. This became all the more so after MAZLUMDER composed wrenching reports about the scope of destruction in urban areas in southeastern Turkey when the security forces had been locked in a vicious fight with the outlawed PKK militants in cities after the collapse of a two-year truce in June 2015. MAZLUMDER’s detailed reports opened cracks within its rank-and-file leadership, something that later morphed into a full-blown split between pro-government factions and the Kurdish ones. It also incurred the wrath of the Turkish military top brass as generals were deeply concerned over the reports’ implications for the army role in the humanitarian tragedy in some quarters of major cities such as Diyarbakir, Cizre, Nusaybin, Hakkari and etc.
(For Background Information, Read the Article from 2017)
Turkish-Kurdish Split Stirs Chaos In Islamist Human Rights Group
In a country where political identities define major contours of social life, the fragmented world of civil rights…
Gergerlioglu spent his entire life fighting for the rights of the oppressed and wrongfully persecuted. In the frenzy of Turkey’s post-coup purge, he joined the assembly of misfortunate, ending up on the receiving end of a new wave of persecution that still lasts to this day. The moment he was sacked, he joined the ranks of some disparate groups hastily cobbled together to spearhead the efforts to restore the rights of the purged. This personal crusade has later taken on a more institutionalized form as he began to use his podium in Parliament as a bully pulpit to raise public awareness about the plight of purge victims after he grabbed a seat in the 2018 parliamentary elections.
As he himself once again professed on Friday, he used the appeal of his newfound position only for the common good of citizens and the oppressed people regardless of their political persuasion over the past two and a half years. The torrent of public reaction speaks volumes about what Gergerlioglu means in today’s Turkey. He may occupy only one seat in the Turkish Parliament. But the impact he created has been far larger than the actual size of his seat, surpassing the lackluster performance of opposition parties regarding human rights issues.
The entire political opposition fails to accord more than a passing reference to Turkey’s most pressing rights violations. With an exception of People’s Democracy Party (HDP-Gergerlioglu’s Party), The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and IYI (Good) Party do not seem to have appreciated how Turkey’s democratic deficits account for the country’s entire conundrum, be it in the economy or foreign policy. Turkey’s democratic predicament is nowhere to be seen in their party agenda, while the HDP, due to an unrelenting political crackdown on Kurds, regards the element of rule of law as the indispensable pillar of plausible, normal, and civic politics. It is the foundational stone of every political conduct, the party muses.
If the HDP is the party that devotes more energy to human rights in Parliament than any other party, it is Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu within HDP who works most, almost peerless, for this cause. He is the fearless champion of purge victims, while the HDP leadership (for reasons understandable) remains circumspect about a potential association with the regime’s designated political enemies.
In contrast to the shallow state of Turkey’s political opposition, Gergerlioglu stands out as a one-man army. To put it succinctly, he is a one-man party that shatters the complacency of the government, while the opposition parties seem content with their figurehead images that only serve to decorate Turkey’s toothless legislative body.
None of the praise heaped upon this lone warrior is over-hyped.
Rebecca Harms, another defender of Turkey’s forgotten purged community, proffers that jailing Gergerlioglu would be “another severe violation of human rights.” It is certainly more than that.
The political pressure that began to mount against the lawmaker after he brought the issue of strip-searches of detained women in police custody reveals how the government is unsettled by a single man’s ability to stir things up, to arouse public awareness about rights violations amid a perpetual media blackout, and to jolt nerves of public servants who involved in official misconduct while carrying out their duties in various quarters of the public service (including jail). Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, to put it simply, is the nightmare of those who committed wrong in the positions of power. The government, as the lawmaker expressed above, expedited a court ruling against him in response to his dutiful service to the nation by punishing him for his good deeds.
Whether he may end up in a prison cell in the days to come remains to be seen. But the entire public coalesced around this brave man.
Professor Umit Cizre and purged Law Professor Kerem Altiparmak displayed their testimony to Gergerlioglu’s unshaken commitment to the sacred cause of human rights without any discrimination about someone’s political or social background.
He chose to defend anybody from any social quarter during his entire life, even before his political journey in Ankara. Today, it is our turn to stand by him.
#GergerlioğlununYanındayız (We are with Gergerlioglu).