European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has asked Turkey to submit its defense as to why former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş remains behind bars in the case related to the 2014 Kobane protests.
The court, which previously ruled for Demirtaş’s immediate release, asked whether the imprisonment is based on reasonable doubt, grounds and time, as well as whether it violates the right to freedom of expression. The court also asked if Demirtaş is kept behind bars on political grounds.
Ramazan Demir, one of Demirtaş’s lawyers, said that the defense request came due to the Constitutional Court’s delay in issuing a ruling on Demirtaş’s imprisonment. The ECHR asked whether Turkey’s top court is an effective legal means in Demirtaş’s case and whether Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the limitation on use of restrictions on rights – is being violated.
“These questions are asked for the first time in this case and it’s very significant,” Demir tweeted on Feb. 1.
Another one of Demirtaş’s lawyers, Benan Molu, said that the ECHR asked whether Turkey’s top court looked into the politician’s appeal that was submitted on Nov. 7, 2019.
The ECHR in December 2020 ruled that Turkey must immediately release Demirtaş, saying the justification for his four years in prison was a cover for limiting pluralism and debate.
The Grand Chamber of the ECHR said Demirtaş – who is charged with terrorism-related offenses – had had his rights violated under five different categories, including freedom of expression and liberty.
According to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber, Demirtaş’s pre-trial detention since Nov. 4, 2016 had sent “a dangerous message to the entire population” that sharply narrowed free democratic debate.
Demirtaş faces a sentence of up to 142 years in prison if convicted of being the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) over his actions during the Kobane protests in 2014 that turned violent and led to the deaths of 37 people. He denies any wrongdoing.
Protesters in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast that year accused the army of standing by as ISIS militants besieged the Syrian Kurdish town Kobane, just across the border.
The ECHR said it saw no evidence in decisions on Demirtaş’s detention that linked his actions and the alleged offenses.
“The Court concluded that the reasons put forward by the authorities for the applicant’s pre-trial detention had merely been cover for an ulterior political purpose, which was a matter of indisputable gravity for democracy,” it said in its finding on Dec. 22, 2020.
Ankara accuses the HDP of ties to the PKK, which has waged an insurgency in the southeast since 1984 and is deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union. The HDP denies having any connections with terrorism.
The HDP, chaired by Demirtaş from 2014 and 2018, has seen thousands of its officials and members arrested in recent years.
In 2018, a chamber of the ECHR ruled that Demirtaş’s right to a speedy trial had been violated.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded at the time that Turkey would counter the ruling. Shortly afterward an appeals court approved a jail sentence against Demirtaş for disseminating terrorist propaganda in a 2013 speech, sealing his conviction.
In 2019, a court lifted an arrest warrant related to the main case while another agreed to release Demirtaş from the propaganda sentence given time already served. But a new arrest warrant related to the same events in 2014 kept him in jail.
The ECHR said Demirtaş’s continued detention on such similar grounds “would entail a prolongation of the violation of his rights.”