(Istanbul) – The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers should direct Turkey to release the Kurdish opposition politician Selahattin Demirtaş in compliance with a European Court of Human Rights judgment, five human rights groups said today. The five are ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation for Human Rights, and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project.
The groups have made a detailed joint submission to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, which oversees enforcement of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments, asking it to issue the decision at its meeting on 9-11 March, 2021. The groups said that Turkey continues to violate Demirtaş’s rights by flouting a landmark judgment issued by the court on December 22, 2020, requiring his immediate release.
“President Erdogan and senior Turkish officials have responded to the European Court’s judgment ordering Demirtaş’s release with false arguments that it does not apply to his current detention and that the court’s rulings are not binding on Turkey,” said Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “The Committee of Ministers should call on Turkey to release Demirtaş immediately and leave no doubt that disregarding or attempting to bypass judgments of the Strasbourg court is unacceptable.”
Selahattin Demirtaş, former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish rights opposition party to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been held in Edirne F-Type prison in western Turkey since November 4, 2016.
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that in initially detaining Demirtaş and then prolonging his detention for over four years, the Turkish government pursued an ulterior purpose of preventing him from carrying out his political activities, depriving voters of their elected representative, and “stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate: the very core of the concept of a democratic society.”
Ordering Demirtaş’s immediate release, the court found that Turkey had violated rights protected by Articles 5.1 and 5.3 (right to liberty) of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10 (right to freedom of expression), Article 3 Protocol 1 (the right to free and fair elections), and Article 18 (misuse of limitations on rights in the Convention), by pursuing Demirtaş’s detention for political ends.
In finding the government acted in bad faith (Article 18 violation), the court notably refers to Demirtaş’s current detention, from September 20, 2019 which relates to an investigation into deadly protests in southeast Turkey on October 6-8, 2014. The Strasbourg court said what Turkey was attempting to do was “a new legal classification” of the same facts, because the same “acts and incidents” had formed the basis on which Demirtaş had been detained up until September 2, 2019, and for which he is already on trial.
Finding a continuity between Demirtaş’s pretrial detention from November 4, 2016, to September 2, 2019, and again from September 20, 2019, to the present, the court termed the September 20 order a “return to pre-trial detention.” The Turkish government has rejected this finding and contends that Demirtaş is currently detained in the context of a case not covered by the European Court judgment.
“As the European Court of Human Rights made clear, Demirtaş’s detention on September 20, 2019, was in fact not a separate detention but a ‘return to pre-trial detention’ and a continuing violation of his Convention rights,” said Róisín Pillay, Europe and Central Asia Director of the International Commission of Jurists. “The Committee of Ministers should press Turkey to immediately end this abuse of judicial proceedings aimed at harassing an opposition politician.”
The groups’ submission provides a full analysis of political and legal developments since the issuing of the ECtHR Grand Chamber judgment – including a new indictment against Demirtaş – and repeated statements from Turkey’s president and senior officials that the Demirtaş judgment and European Court judgments in general are not binding on Turkey.
“Charging such a prominent political figure with 30 serious ‘new’ offences based on political speeches mostly 6 years ago, which the Court already found to be protected, is pure repackaging – a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent compliance with the Court’s judgment requiring immediate release,” said Helen Duffy of the TLSP. “The Grand Chamber already rejected earlier ‘reclassification’ attempts, and it is time for a robust response by the Committee of Ministers to break the cycle of evasion.”
The groups urged the Committee of Ministers to place Demirtaş’s case under their enhanced procedures, treating it as a lead case, and to indicate that continued refusal to carry out the judgment may lead them to refer Turkey to the European Court for non-compliance. The groups urged the Committee of Ministers to call on the Turkish government to:
- Immediately release Demirtaş as required by the ECtHR judgment, and make clear that the judgment applies to his ongoing detention and to any future charges or detentions in which the factual or legal basis is substantially similar to that which the ECtHR has already addressed in its judgment;
- Halt all criminal proceedings initiated against Demirtaş following the constitutional amendment lifting his immunity, which was deemed unlawful by the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber;
- End the abuse of judicial proceedings to harass Demirtaş, stifle pluralism, and limit freedom of political debate, emphasizing that this cessation is essential to the restoration of Demirtaş’s rights;
- End interference in Demirtaş’s cases, especially by attempting to pressure or unduly influence judicial authorities; and
- Publicly correct false claims promoted by senior Turkish government officials that the Grand Chamber judgment in the Demirtaş case and European Court judgments more generally, are not binding.