5 int’l rights groups call on CoE to urge Turkey to release Demirtaş

Five human rights groups have called on the Council of Europe (CoE) Committee of Ministers to urge Turkey to release Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş in accordance with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation for Human Rights and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project have made a detailed joint submission on Demirtaş to the CoE’s Committee of Ministers, which oversees the enforcement of ECtHR rulings, in advance of its meeting on March 9-11, 2021.

“Turkey continues to violate Demirtaş’s rights by flouting a landmark judgment issued by the court on December 22, 2020, requiring his immediate release,” the group said.

Demirtaş has been in prison since November 2016 on politically motivated charges in spite of two binding rulings in favor of his release by the ECtHR. The Turkish government still refuses to release Demirtaş, and a Turkish court on January 7 accepted a new indictment against him and 107 others calling for life sentences in relation to the Kobani protests of 2014.

“President [Recep Tayyip] 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.”

The Committee of Ministers is the CoE’s decision-making body. It is both a governmental body where national approaches to European problems are discussed on an equal footing and a forum to find collective responses to these challenges.

The human right groups urged the CoE committee 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.

In December the Strasbourg-based court found Turkey guilty of violating the rights of Demirtaş on five counts including violation of the rights to freedom of expression, liberty and security and free elections as well as limitations on the use of restrictions on rights. The court’s ruling was made by its Grand Chamber following appeals from both Turkey and Demirtaş to the court’s original ruling in November 2018.

Most recently, the ECtHR has asked Turkey to provide its defense for the pre-trial detention of Demirtaş in connection to street protests in the country’s Southeast in 2014 that claimed the lives of 37 people.

Demirtaş had called for street protests in support of Kurdish fighters in the Syrian town of Kobani while accusing Ankara of failing to provide adequate help to Kobani and of supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which had laid siege to the town.

Demirtaş was an outspoken critic of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, President Erdoğan, before he was jailed. He ran in the presidential elections of 2014 and 2018 as a rival to Erdoğan. Demirtaş conducted his election campaign from jail for the 2018 election.

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