Erdoğan remains defiant amid calls for release of Kurdish leader Demirtaş following European rights court’s decision

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sounded defiant in the face of statements from Germany, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and Human Rights Watch calling for the release of Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş following yesterday’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Speaking to his ruling party’s lawmakers, Erdoğan slammed the ECtHR for “defending a terrorist” who was responsible for dozens of deaths during violent protests five years ago, according to The Associated Press.

Erdoğan also accuses Demirtaş of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed secessionist group listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States. The Kurdish politician faces up to 142 years in prison on terror charges but denies any wrongdoing.

Demirtaş co-led the second-largest opposition party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), before his arrest on politically motivated charges in November 2016. He ran for president twice against Erdoğan — once while incarcerated — and is a vocal critic of the government.

Germany’s Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance Dr. Bärbel Kofler in a tweet called on the Turkish judiciary to swiftly implement the ECtHR judgement and release Demirtaş. Kofler said the ECtHR’s decision confirmed that Demirtaş was jailed for political reasons.

In a statement, PACE’s rapporteurs for monitoring Turkey said, “Selahattin Demirtaş must be freed from prison — and free to exercise his political rights in a democratic society again without further delay.”

“Our Assembly has repeatedly underscored that the place of deputies is in parliament, not in prison.” the rapporteurs said. “The Court’s final ruling confirmed that Mr. Demirtaş’ initial and continued pre-trial detention significantly reduced the scope of free democratic debate. It unanimously ruled that Mr. Demirtaş’ right to free elections had been violated while confirming that his pre-trial detention ultimately sought to stifle pluralism and limit freedom of political debate.”

Human Rights Watch also issued a statement about the ECtHR’s Demirtaş ruling. “The European Court of Human Rights’ very strong judgment confirms that the Turkish government has kept Selahattin Demirtaş behind bars for political reasons,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The judgment demonstrates how the Erdogan presidency weaponizes detention and prosecution to remove opponents from the political scene and threatens free democratic debate.”

Williamson also said the Turkish government must act without delay and that they cannot disregard the Grand Chamber’s judgment with specious arguments.

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