Rights groups demand release of jailed Kurdish leaders on 7th anniversary of their arrest

In a joint statement released Friday, four prominent human rights organizations have called for the immediate release of Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, the former co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who have been imprisoned for seven years on terrorism-related charges, Turkish Minute reported.

Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ, who have been behind bars since 2016, 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 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) urging their release.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in June urged the Turkish government to comply with the ECtHR’s decisions, which found the continued detention of the politicians to be a politically motivated act that violates their rights to liberty, security and free expression. Despite the court’s judgments, Turkish authorities have kept Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ behind bars, drawing criticism from international bodies and rights advocates.

The four rights organizations — Human Rights Watch, the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project, the International Commission of Jurists and the International Federation for Human Rights — made their call on the seventh anniversary of the politicians’ wrongful imprisonment.

“The seventh anniversary of the unlawful incarceration of Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ is a stark reminder of the Erdoğan presidency’s willingness to use detention for political ends to silence democratically elected opposition politicians representing millions of Kurdish and leftist voters in Turkey,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “In defying the binding ECtHR judgments ordering the politicians’ release, Turkey is flagrantly violating its legal obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and international law more broadly.”

On Thursday Yüksekdağ was temporarily released from prison under guard to attend her brother’s funeral in Adana, in a rare moment of leniency in her incarceration.

The HDP was the main pro-Kurdish party before a closure case on charges of “attempting to destroy the indivisibility between the state and the people” forced the party members to found another party, the Green Left Party (YSP), which later changed its name to the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP).

Hundreds of HDP 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.

The plight of Gültan Kışanak, another prominent Kurdish politician and former Diyarbakır co-mayor who remains imprisoned beyond the maximum period allowed by Turkish law as her case still has not been concluded, has been highlighted by other former HDP mayors who have been replaced by government trustees. The mayors who spoke to the Mezopotamya news agency argue that the case against Kışanak is emblematic of a broader campaign to suppress Kurdish political representation and women’s activism in Turkey.

The rights organizations, along with the replaced co-mayors, have denounced the use of the judiciary as a political tool by the Turkish government, asserting that such actions undermine the rule of law and democratic principles. They have called on the Council of Europe to take decisive action in its upcoming session to ensure the end of violations of the rights of Kurdish politicians.

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