ECtHR says Turkey arrested pro-Kurdish politicians to stifle pluralism, orders their release

European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on Tuesday ruled that Turkey had violated the rights of 13 former lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) by putting them in pretrial detention to stifle pluralism and to limit freedom of political debate, ordering the release of two of them who are still in jail.

Former HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ and 11 other HDP MPs were arrested in November 2016 on accusations of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

The ECtHR had ruled in 2018 that Demirtaş’s pretrial detention was political, ordering his release. Turkish courts refused to implement the ruling, and a regional appeals court in Turkey subsequently upheld a prison sentence handed down to Demirtaş for disseminating terrorist propaganda.

Tuesday’s ECtHR judgment came for Yüksekdağ and 12 other politicians: İdris Baluken, Besime Konca, Abdullah Zeydan, Nihat Akdoğan, Selma Irmak, Ferhat Encu, Gülser Yıldırım, Nursel Aydoğan, Çağlar Demirel, Ayhan Bilgen, Burcu Çelik and Leyla Birlik. All of them were arrested in 2016 except for Bilgen, who was detained in 2017. Since then, apart from Yüksekdağ and Baluken, the politicians have been released on various dates between 2017 and 2022.

The ECtHR ruled that the applicants’ pretrial detention was arbitrary and incompatible with domestic legislation since they were entitled to parliamentary immunity. The Strasbourg court also ruled that there was no evidence giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that they had committed a criminal offense justifying their detention.

The court further ruled that the judicial decisions concerning their detention contained “no reasons other than a mere statement of the grounds for pretrial detention provided for by law” and “were worded in abstract, repetitive and formulaic terms.”

According to the court’s ruling, the applicants were prevented from effectively challenging the decisions ordering their pretrial detention as they had no access to the investigation file.

The ECtHR also ruled that Turkey violated their right to be elected to office by putting them in pretrial detention and that they were detained for expressing opinions critical of the political authorities.

The court also ruled that Turkey pursued an “ulterior purpose” of stifling pluralism and limiting the freedom of political debate with the pretrial detention of the applicants.

The ECtHR ordered Turkey to pay 16,000 euros to each of the applicants except Aydoğan, Bilgen and Birlik, in non-pecuniary damages, while awarding 11,600 euros to Bilgen in non-pecuniary damages and 1,000 euros to each of the applicants for costs and expenses. The court also ordered Turkey to “take all necessary measures to put an end to the applicants’ detention on remand,” ordering the release of Yüksekdağ and Baluken, who remain in prison.

In May 2016 Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), its ally the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) all voted in favor of a constitutional amendment designed specifically to revoke the parliamentary immunity of 137 lawmakers, 50 of whom were from the HDP while 51 were from the CHP.

Thanks to this amendment, the prosecution of lawmakers became possible, and many opposition lawmakers were subsequently detained.

Since the detention of the HDP co-chairs in November 2016, the government has ramped up its crackdown on the party, going so far as to seek its closure.

Both the AKP and the MHP frequently accuse the HDP, the second-largest opposition group in parliament, of ties to the PKK. The party denies the government’s claim and says it is working to achieve a peaceful solution to Turkey’s so-called Kurdish issue.

The Kurdish issue, a term prevalent in Turkey’s public discourse, refers to the demand for equal rights by the country’s Kurdish population and their struggle for recognition.

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