ANKARA: The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will meet on June 7 to review the Turkish government’s failure to implement two key judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) about the immediate release of activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala and the Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas.
The committee is entitled to take action against a member of the council if it does not respect an ECHR judgment, but such a move is rare.
Action against a state was taken for the first time in 2017 against the government of Azerbaijan, which insisted on not releasing the jailed opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov, after the Strasbourg-based court found that his detention was to punish him for criticizing the government.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project called on the committee to take all necessary measures to push Turkey to remedy its non-compliance with the ECHR.
The watchdogs, which also demanded measures against Turkey in March for ignoring the ECHR decisions, warned Ankara may face infringement proceedings and more measures if it insists on not complying.
To open proceedings, two-thirds of the Committee of Ministers is required to vote in favor. The case is then considered at the ECHR about whether the state in question has ignored the obligation to comply. Depending on the final decision, the Committee of Ministers can suspend said country’s voting rights or even its membership from the Council of Europe.
The ECHR ruled that by keeping Kavala and Demirtas in pretrial detention since November 2017 and November 2016 respectively, the Turkish government violated their right to liberty and abused the option given to governments to levy limitations on rights.
The court ordered their immediate release but was ignored by Ankara, and new criminal proceedings have been opened against both men.
“This cynical non-compliance with the court’s judgments requires a robust response from the Committee of Ministers,” said Helen Duffy of the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project in a press statement.
Kavala, who is accused of being involved in the 2016 coup attempt and espionage against the Turkish government, is set for a new hearing on Aug. 6, 2021. In his latest defense statement on May 21, he said charges against him could be compared to the legal basis required for charges of espionage to be brought under the Nazis in Germany from the 1930s.
Demirtas is being kept behind bars for his political speeches and activities as leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to allegedly undermine the unity and territorial integrity of the Turkish state. His next hearing is scheduled for June 14.
In December 2019, the ECHR ruled Turkish authorities had aimed to “silence Kavala as a human rights defender” by holding him in pretrial detention and prosecuting him merely for his human rights activities.
In December 2020, it also ruled that by keeping Demirtas in pretrial detention and prosecuting him for his activities and speeches, protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Turkish authorities had pursued an “ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate,” and of sending “a dangerous message to the entire population.”
The 48-year-old politician, who inflicted a significant blow to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during presidential elections in 2015 and general elections in 2016, faces several charges ranging from leading a terror organization to insulting the president.
“If Turkey continues to undermine the binding nature of the court’s judgments and fails to follow the committee’s guidance on what to do to implement them, there is no option left for the committee other than triggering the infringement proceedings against Turkey,” Ayse Bingol-Demir, from the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project, told Arab News.
“The committee has been taking several necessary steps that it should take prior to triggering the infringement proceedings in the Kavala case. Therefore, the committee is very close to taking this exceptional step in this case if Osman Kavala’s unlawful detention is not ended immediately,” she added.
According to Bingol-Demir, the same will eventually be seen in Demirtas’ case as well, but the committee needs to first follow its internal procedure and apply other measures, as has been in the case for Kavala.
The cases of Kavala and Demirtas still draw condemnation from around the world, with several rights groups and countries calling for their release.
Germany and France recently released a joint statement urging the Turkish government to immediately release Kavala.
In their meeting with Erdogan in Ankara in April, EU Council President Charles Michel and President of the EU Commission Ursula Von der Leyen called on Turkey to comply with the ECHR rulings, and said the issues were non-negotiable.
“The Council of Europe is an extremely important institution in the region that Turkey has lots of strong ties with. Turkey’s interest is certainly in maintaining good relations with the council, its subsequent bodies, and member states,” Bingol-Demir said.
She added that this gives the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers “very strong leverage” to deal with the challenges Turkey has posed to the council’s human rights protection system.