Turkish court ignores European rights court’s Demirtaş judgement

The Turkish criminal court that convicted Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), for a speech he made on Roj TV in 2005, declined to give effect to a judgement of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which had found a violation in his conviction.

His lawyers will take the case to Turkey’s Constitutional Court.

The Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court sentenced Demirtaş, the then-chair of the Human Rights Association’ Diyarbakır chapter, to 10 months in prison in 2010 for a speech he made on the pro-Kurdish Roj TV in 2005, finding the speech to have disseminated terrorist propaganda.

The court, however, deferred the announcement of the verdict, a legal feature of the Turkish judicial system leading to the annulment of the sentence if the convicted person does not deliberately commit a crime within a specified period of time.

The verdict of the Diyarbakır court was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, after which Demirtaş’s lawyer took the case to the ECtHR, claiming a violation of the freedom of speech enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Strasbourg court on July 9, 2019 found a violation of freedom of speech, ordering Turkey to pay compensation to the applicant.

Following the ECtHR’s judgement, Demirtaş’s lawyer, Mesut Beştaş, applied to the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court, demanding a retrial and Demirtaş’s acquittal by way of implementing the Strasbourg court’s judgement.

The Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court, however, rejected the demand on January 28 on the grounds that the deferment of the announcement of the verdict is not a final judgement. An appeal by the lawyer to a higher court was also turned down.

Beştaş took the case to the Constitutional Court, claiming that the refusal of the retrial by the lower court was arbitrary and unlawful because it ignores the ECtHR’s judgement, which found the conviction of the applicant substantively violated his right to freedom of speech regardless of the qualification of the verdict.

According to Beştaş, the lower court was also mistaken in its qualification of the deferment of the announcement of the verdict which is, conversely, an enforceable ruling registered in the criminal records of the convicted person.

Beştaş furthermore applied to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, responsible for ensuring the implementation of the ECtHR’s judgements.

Demirtaş has been in jail since November 2016 on terrorism-related charges. He faces a sentence of up to 142 years in prison in a separate case against him.

On November 20, 2018, the ECtHR ruled that Demirtaş’s lengthy pre-trial detention had violated the European Convention on Human Rights, ordering the Turkish government to pay 10,000 euros in compensation and calling for his release.

Following the ECtHR decision, a Turkish appeals court upheld a four-year, eight-month sentence and in effect nullified the ECtHR decision. Demirtaş’s lawyers then brought the case to the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR.

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