Turkish gov’t targets opposition MP Gergerlioğlu over mistreatment accusation

Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu called Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu a terrorist on Thursday, daily Cumhuriyet reported, following Gergerlioğlu’s accusations against Turkish law enforcement of mistreatment in custody.

“You are following the lead of a deputy who is obviously a member of the FETÖ terrorist organisation,” Soylu said as he dismissed Gergerlioğlu’s efforts to highlight the practice of strip-searches in police custody and in prisons. “It’s just that he has the cover of parliament.”

Soylu said he had pressed charges against  Gergerlioğlu “many times” for membership in FETÖ, the name Turkey uses for the followers of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States and is accused by Ankara of having orchestrated several attempts to topple the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In the same speech, Soylu also called former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş a terrorist.

Demirtaş has been in prison since November 2016, and on Tuesday the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) called on Turkey for his immediate release. Soylu said the ECHR ruling was “a decision in a void, it has no meaning whatsoever, no matter what reason it was made for.”

Gergerlioğlu, former chairman of the Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for the Oppressed (MAZLUMDER), has been drawing attention to women’s accounts of being strip-searched in police custody and in prisons in front of several male officers, as well as women being subjected to strip searches during prison visitations.

The incident that kickstarted dozens of women coming forward with their accounts was Gergerlioğlu speaking in a parliamentary session about 30 university students being subjected to degrading treatment in police custody in the western Uşak province.

AKP deputy Özlem Zengin had also targeted Gergerlioğlu earlier, saying the HDP deputy “terrorized” the parliament as she dismissed the accusations of undignified treatment and strip searches.

“Süleyman Soylu has slandered me,” Gergerlioğlu said in a video response. “I wouldn’t want to stoop to his level, but as a human rights defender, I will say that they attack me because I say the emperor has no clothes.”

“They attack me because I oppose sexual harassment of women, men and children, and because all of the public is with me, the nation is behind me,” Gergerlioğlu said.

Turkish law allows for a version of strip searching if strict guidelines are met, in cases such as strong suspicion of contraband, in the presence of same-sex officers and with gowns provided for privacy. Women have come out with accounts of being made to walk through rooms full of male officers without their clothes on, and other unlawful implementations of the search measures.