ECtHR faults Turkey for violating confidentiality of jailed Kurdish leaders’ lawyer interviews

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Turkey violated the rights of Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, former co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who have been imprisoned since 2016 on terrorism-related charges, by failing to respect the confidentiality of their interviews with their lawyers, Turkish Minute reported.

Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ alleged that the authorities monitored their conversations with their lawyers and seized documents exchanged between them.

The ECtHR, in a majority decision of six votes to one, held that the authorities failed to demonstrate exceptional circumstances justifying the infringement of the principle of confidentiality of the applicants’ interviews with their lawyers. The violation of this principle prevented the effective assistance of their lawyers, thus failing to meet the requirements of Article 5 § 4 (right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of detention) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court further noted that the restrictions imposed lacked sufficient safeguards against abuse.

The case originated from the arrest of Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ in November 2016 on terrorism-related charges. The applicants lodged individual applications with the ECtHR, arguing that their rights to liberty and security had been violated. The court had previously ruled, in December 2020 and November 2022, that their pretrial detentions were contrary to various articles of the convention.

The court emphasized that the confidentiality of conversations between the defendant and their defense counsel is a fundamental right directly related to the rights of the defense and that any derogation from this principle should only be permitted in exceptional cases and must be accompanied by adequate safeguards against abuse.

As a result of the violation, the ECtHR awarded each applicant €5,500 in non-pecuniary damages and jointly €2,500 for costs and expenses.
The court’s judgment is not final and may be referred to its Grand Chamber for further review within three months. Once the decision becomes final, it will be transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to monitor its execution.

Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ were outspoken critics of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, before they were jailed. Both leaders’ imprisonment continues despite rulings of ECtHR urging their release.

The HDP currently faces a closure case on charges of “attempting to destroy the indivisibility between the state and the people,” and hundreds of its politicians, including former co-chairs, are behind bars on terrorism charges, while most of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast in 2019 have been replaced by government-appointed trustees.
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