Turkish opposition backs immunity bill that Kurdish MPs say targets them

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s main opposition party will support a government bid to lift the immunity from prosecution currently enjoyed by all members of parliament, a draft law that Kurdish lawmakers say is targeted against them.

Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu addresses members of parliament from his party during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, June 30, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

President Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called for members of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to face prosecution, accusing them of being an extension of the outlawed militant group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The bill proposed on Tuesday has the support of all ruling AK Party lawmakers - 316, excluding the speaker who is not eligible to vote.

With the main opposition party CHP - which has 133 seats - declaring its support on Wednesday night, the bill could easily win the required 367 votes in the 550-seat assembly.

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu told broadcaster CNN Turk his party would support the proposal despite it being, in his opinion, anti-constitutional. He did not explain why he thought it breached the constitution.

CHP lawmaker Ozgur Ozel said the party wanted to completely abolish immunity from prosecution for members of parliament, whereas the government proposal only applies to deputies who are under court investigation.

“When the subject is immunity, no matter the shortcomings, inadequacies or inconsistencies, the CHP cannot be expected to give a ‘no’ vote on lifting immunities,” Ozel told Reuters.

He said the CHP would try to strengthen the bill as it passes through parliament. The CHP says lawmakers should only have immunity from prosecution for what they say at the parliamentary podium, not a general amnesty.

Although lawmakers are completely immune from prosecution, the police can file ‘dossiers’ against them which can only lead to a legal process once the politician ceases to be a member of parliament.

The government’s proposal would lift the immunity of all deputies but only to be prosecuted for the dossiers against them. There are some 550 such dossiers pending, half of which are aimed at pro-Kurdish HDP party members.

The HDP criticized the CHP’s decision to side with the government.

“Kilicdaroglu taking this decision means throwing a lifebelt to the AKP and (Prime Minister Ahmet) Davutoglu,” said HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen.

The HDP has criticized Turkey’s large-scale security operations in its mainly Kurdish southeast, where violence has surged since the collapse of a two-year ceasefire with the PKK militants last summer.

The HDP criticism has fueled Turkish nationalist calls to prosecute politicians seen as close to the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

Eleven CHP deputies, including Kilicdaroglu, face requests to lift their immunity over insults to the president.

Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Clarence Fernandez