Lawyers seek justice from Council of Europe for Demirtas case

Lawyers seek justice from Council of Europe for Demirtas case
Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas. (AFP/HDP)
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Updated 24 July 2020

Lawyers seek justice from Council of Europe for Demirtas case

Lawyers seek justice from Council of Europe for Demirtas case
  • Demirtas has been imprisoned since Nov. 4, 2016

ANKARA: Turkey’s refusal to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has pushed lawyers of Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas to take the case to the country’s top court.

One of his lawyers also filed an application to the Council of Europe ministers’ committee at the same time.

Demirtas, the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has been imprisoned since Nov. 4, 2016.

The ECHR ruled that the Kurdish politician’s rights were violated after he was given a 10-month prison sentence for his remarks on the Kurdish Roj TV show in 2005 during his Diyarbakir chairmanship of the left-wing Human Rights Association.

He was accused of making terror propaganda for this speech. The European court ruled its member country Turkey should pay compensation to Demirtas for the violation of his freedom of expression.

But the Turkish court rejected all requests for a retrial and acquittal, saying there was no need for it and ignored the ECHR ruling.

A continued non-execution of the rulings of the ECHR is considered a challenge to the court’s authority, and according to Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights, contracting parties must abide by the rulings of the court to which they are parties. Otherwise they can face fines from the court, while the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is able to decide to monitor the country in question.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently sent a joint letter to EU ministers calling on them to address rights concerns in Turkey and enforce “the European Court of Human Rights’ rulings that Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtas should be immediately released from their prolonged and arbitrary detention.”

Demirtas, who is taking regular medication for a heart condition, was excluded from a recent law adopted in April 2020 where about 90,000 prisoners, including those with chronic diseases, were released from overcrowded prisons in Turkey.

HRW Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb said that this was a tale of craftiness by Turkey, with its deeply politicized justice system, versus the slowness of the European court.

“It has been over ten months since the grand chamber of the European court held a hearing to examine Demirtas’s case, and disappointingly the court still hasn’t issued its verdict,” she told Arab News. “That grand chamber hearing followed a ruling in 2018 where the European court found that by keeping Demirtas jailed, Turkey was 'stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate,' the very core of the concept of a democratic society.”

Sinclair-Webb noted that it was a very important ruling — the first to say that Turkey uses prolonged detention in a politically motivated way and that it should immediately release Demirtas.

According to Sinclair-Webb, Turkey’s conduct during the affair proves the European court right, as at every stage of the process Turkey has found excuses not to implement the ruling and release Demirtas.

“First the Turkish authorities said “the decision isn’t final, we are waiting for the grand chamber decision.” Then they said, “Oh now we are holding him in relation to a new investigation,” and I would expect that they will argue when it finally comes that the grand chamber decision doesn’t apply. We have seen exactly the same playbook in relation to human rights defender Osman Kavala,” she said.

As the charge on which Demirtas is currently held relates to evidence for which he is already on trial and in the scope of which he was released from detention, Sinclair-Webb said there was therefore no ground to hold him in pretrial detention.

“It is a cynical and politically motivated decision to keep him locked up, has nothing to do with law, and once again completely discredits the justice system,” she said.

Demirtas is kept behind bars over terror charges and faces a sentence of up to 142 years. He is now being held in relation to protests in the Kurdish-majority southeastern provinces of Turkey in October 2014, despite not being named as a suspect in that investigation.

The Council of Europe, a human rights organization of which Turkey is a founding member, cannot issue an official verdict on a case until all avenues of the domestic judicial system in Turkey have been exhausted.

Mesut Bestas, one of Demirtas’s lawyers who lodged the application with the Council of Europe, is still hopeful for the leverage of the European top court on the Turkish Constitutional Court to revise the Demirtas decision.

“Although we cannot foresee how long it will take for the constitutional court and the ECHR to announce their ruling, it is a simple application under normal conditions and there are several case laws in this matter. I’m sure the Turkish Constitutional Court will revise the mistake made by the local court,” he told Arab News.

In the meantime, the Turkish Constitutional Court of Turkey ordered in late June the release of Demirtas and ruled that his right to liberty had been violated because his detention had exceeded “a reasonable time.” It ordered that compensation of 50,000 Turkish lira ($7,289) be paid to the Kurdish leader.

“We assume that Turkey will not burn all the bridges with the law. Otherwise none of us will have the guarantee to live under legal assurances,” Bestas said.