German foreign minister calls on Turkey to release political prisoners, including Kavala and Demirtaş

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday called on the Turkish government to release individuals who remain behind bars despite rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), including businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala and former leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş, Euronews reported.

During a speech at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Baerbock said member states should respect the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and implement the decisions of the Strasbourg court.

“I am deeply concerned that the Turkish authorities have ignored demands for the release of Osman Kavala for years, which the ECtHR considers politically motivated,” Baerbock said.

“I repeat our call on the Turkish authorities to release Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtaş and other prisoners unlawfully jailed by a court ruling,” Baerbock added.

Turkey is one of the founding members of the Council of Europe (CoE).

Kavala has been behind bars since October 18, 2017 despite a 2019 ECtHR ruling that found his detention was in pursuance of an “ulterior motive,” that of silencing him as a human rights defender. The non-implementation of the ECtHR’s ruling prompted the CoE Committee of Ministers to launch an infringement procedure against Turkey in February.

In September four UN special rapporteurs sent a joint letter to the Turkish government and expressed their concern regarding the apparent denial of justice for Kavala. The UN officials urged Turkey to respect the decision and legitimacy of the ECtHR and requested information on the factual and legal basis of the charges against and conviction of Kavala.

Demirtaş was arrested in November 2016 and has been imprisoned since then despite an ECtHR ruling in November 2018 that Demirtaş’s pretrial detention was political and 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.

A 2020 judgment also found that the detention of Demirtaş pursued the “ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate” and ordered his immediate release.

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

According to the Crackdown on Human Rights Defenders: 2022 in Review by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), in 2022 human rights defenders continued to face baseless investigations, prosecutions and convictions. They were accused of “membership in an armed terrorist organization,” “disseminating terrorist propaganda” and “insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.” Turkish police have raided the offices of human rights organizations and detained rights advocates during the year.

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