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Turkey must immediately release Demirtas, says European Court of Human Rights

HDP politician's right to freedom of expression, liberty, security and a speedy trial violated, says ECHR
Supporter of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) holds pictures of jailed former party leader Selahattin Demirtas during a rally in Istanbul on 3 February 2019 (AFP)
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Istanbul, Turkey

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Turkey’s arrest and pre-trial detention of Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-chair of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), has constituted multiple rights violations and that Ankara should immediately release him.

The judgment was provided by the grand chamber of the court, whose decisions are final.

Demirtas has been in prison for four years on charges of terrorism, accusations of which range from propagating for the PKK militant group to instigating violence.

He has been tried by multiple courts on various crimes. Even though some courts have ordered his release, others continued to uphold their pre-trial detention orders. He could be sentenced to up to 142 years.

'No specific facts or information that could have given rise to a suspicion justifying the applicant’s pre-trial detention had been put forward by the domestic courts at any time during his detention'

- European Court of Human Rights

The court in a press release said that Turkey has violated Demirtas’s freedom of expression, right to liberty and security, right to a speedy trial and right to be elected and sit in parliament.

“No specific facts or information that could have given rise to a suspicion justifying the applicant’s pre-trial detention had been put forward by the domestic courts at any time during his detention,” the court said. 

“And there had not therefore been a reasonable suspicion that he had committed the offences in question.”

The court said that local courts have not complied with their procedural obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights to ascertain whether Demirtas’s comments had been entitled to parliamentary immunity.

“Lastly, the court established that the applicant’s detention, especially during two crucial campaigns relating to the referendum of 16 April 2017 and the presidential election of 24 June 2018, had pursued the ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate,” the court added.

“The Court held that the respondent State was to take all necessary measures to secure the applicant’s immediate release."

The court also ruled that Turkey should pay a 28,500 euro fine and 31,900 euros in costs and expenses to Demirtas.

Violation of fundamental freedoms

This is not the first ECHR ruling concerning Demirtas.

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A chamber of the ECHR also ordered Turkey to free Demirtas in 2018, citing the violation of fundamental freedoms. However, a local court defied the ruling as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the time that the ECHR decision was non-binding.

The Turkish Constitutional Court also ruled in Demirtas’s favour in June, saying that his pre-trial detention wasn’t justified.

Ramazan Demir, a lawyer for Demirtas, said in a press release that the ECHR’s ruling was clear and that his client should be immediately released.

“The court decided that the initial arrest order in November 2016 and second arrest order in 2019 against Demirtas should be considered together as 'continued pre-trial detention' and his release should be secured and he should be acquitted,” he said.

“We call upon the government to immediately fulfil the judgment, which is final and binding under the convention.”