A legislative floor debate on a controversial homeland security bill rapidly descended into chaos in Turkey late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning, with ruling Islamist AKP party members fiercely beating opposition party members and using the ceremonial gavel to break ribs.
After hours of discussion on a bill that opposition party members argue would severely limit the right of assembly and protest, a tense debate on procedure between an opposition party member and the legislative chair resulted in punches thrown, ribs broken, and, as the Agence-France Presse notes, “one deputy even dumped in a flower bed.”
Opposition members protested that debate for the bill, proposed after a violent assembly of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), had been stalled so as to facilitate the bill’s passing over their objections. Today’s Zaman notes that “tensions were running high” even before the mention of the homeland security bill, “with a war of words taking place over petty issues like what time dinner would be.”
Five legislators, all from the opposition party, were injured, and four hospitalized. Two were treated for head injuries inflicted by a gavel. One, legislator Ertugrul Kurkcu, was punched while trying to protect a female opposition legislator from a flying fist. “They attacked with the parliament speaker’s gavel and the parliament bell and hit us with iron chairs,” Kurkcu told reporters later.
Video footage of the incident, which many call unprecedented, is shocking.
Photographs also show opposition party members being treated for various injuries.
Banditry in Turkish parliament. Ruling AKP MPs attack with a gavel. pic.twitter.com/2QmTiPrO60
— Erkan Saka (@sakaerka) February 17, 2015
Debate over the bill is scheduled to resume on Thursday despite the incident.
AKP members have accused the opposition of inciting the incident. Legislator Mustafa Elitas, the AFP reports, claimed opposition party female lawmakers “harassed” him and later pretended to have been hurt in the brawl: “The two women lawmakers battered themselves. They played their role very well.”
Another legislator, Oktay Saral, appeared on television to admit that he “threw four or five punches” and threw the gavel at some opposition party members “reflexively.” He claimed his punches were merited because the opposition legislators “spoke in an insulting way,” and that he only threw the gavel “because they were throwing things at Recep Özel,” an AKP colleague.
As for the man dumped into a flower bed, Saral claims he “fell down on the decorative plants himself.” Hurriyet Daily News notes that Saral has a history of physically assaulting opposition legislators but has only received warnings from Parliament.
Opposition party members have claimed that the new homeland security bill is part of a larger effort by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to impose Islamist rule on the nation and stifle the freedom of expression. Insulting Erdogan has landed some in prison in the past, while Erdogan himself has pushed for increased internet restrictions and banning Twitter (he eventually recanted and joined Twitter himself). Despite the criticism, Erdogan has claimed Turkey boasts the “world’s freest press.”