Turkish lawmakers flout social distancing to brawl over prisoner release law

Turkish members of parliament donned protective masks against coronavirus infection and maintained a proper distance from each other when they took their seats on Wednesday, but that did not last when a fight broke out later in the day over a bill to release tens of thousands of prisoners to protect them from the pandemic.

The brawl broke out as lawmakers discussed a bill that would free 90,000 inmates, but will leave tens of thousands the opposition describes as political prisoners behind bars.

Politicians from the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the junior partner in the ruling coalition, came to blows with their colleagues from the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Turkish daily BirGün reported.

The fight started after MHP deputy Cemil Enginyurt responded to the HDP’s criticism of the bill by referring to an explosion that killed five people in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.

The government blamed the explosion on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, an outlawed group that has fought for Kurdish self-rule in the country for decades and which the ruling coalition says is linked to the HDP.

“Let nobody expect this parliament to approve of an amnesty for PKK traitors,” said Enginyurt. “I curse the lovers of terror.”

The HDP lawmakers present made outraged objections to the deputy speaker, Levent Gök, before frenzied scenes broke out when Enginyurt strolled towards their ranks and other lawmakers rushed to intervene.

Gök then called a break to proceedings as the melee dragged on.