ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish parliamentary committee approved a bill that strips deputies of immunity from prosecution, paving the way for legislation that members of the pro-Kurdish opposition say is designed to target them and suppress dissent.
A few hours before Monday night’s vote, as the committee debated the draft law, a brawl erupted between members of the ruling AK Party and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Deputies traded kicks and punches and threw water at each other, according to a Reuters witness, prompting members of the HDP to withdraw from the chamber. The three other parliamentary parties subsequently approved the draft.
The next step will be for parliament’s general assembly to debate and vote on the bill, which would remove the immunity of members of parliament who currently face investigations.
The AK Party wants the parliamentary debate on immunity to begin on May 16, aiming for the vote to be finished by May 18, senior AKP lawmaker Bulent Turan told reporters.
President Tayyip Erdogan, who founded the AKP, has called for members of the HDP to face prosecution, accusing them of being an extension of the outlawed militant group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The HDP rejects the accusation.
Turkish lawmakers are immune from prosecution while in office. The police can file “dossiers” against politicians, which can lead to a legal process once they cease to be sitting members of parliament.
The bill will need the support of at least 367 deputies in the 550-seat assembly to be passed directly. It would go to referendum if it wins 330 votes but falls short of the 367.
The AKP has declared its support for the bill, as have the other opposition parties, apart from the HDP, potentially giving the measure the support of up to 489 seats in parliament.
However, the vote will be held by secret ballot and there are expectations that many members of the main opposition could vote against it.
Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan and Mark Heinrich