Talip Aydın, former head of department for human rights at the Turkish Ministry of Justice, said Turkey plans to drag out for years the case of imprisoned Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş. Aydın believes Turkey’s best institutional relations are with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is sure that there will be no serious consequences for his refusal to release Demirtaş.
On Dec. 22 the European court released a judgment calling for Demirtaş’s immediate release from prison. Erdoğan described the ruling as politically motivated, and his Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said: “Demirtaş is a terrorist. The ECtHR decision is in vain. It has no meaning at all. Clear and simple.” Upon the ECtHR judgment, Demirtaş’s lawyers filed an application for its implementation, which was rejected by an Ankara court.
While the opposition has argued that Turkey’s refusal to implement the ECtHR’s Demirtaş ruling will prompt sanctions including a possible expulsion from the Council of Europe (CoE), former judge Aydın, who for years has been involved in Turkey’s relations with the Strasbourg court, thinks differently.
“The Erdoğan regime will weather this ruling by drawing the procedure out for years,” Aydın says, reminding that Turkey had previously defied hundreds of ECtHR orders.
“Non-compliance with ECtHR judgments is not a new phenomenon for Turkey. There have been hundreds of cases where people were not released from detention despite decisions from the ECtHR. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last,” Aydın says.
“Demirtaş’s case will draw attention as he is a popular figure, but he will eventually be one of the hundreds of people in similar situations. These rights violation decisions are monitored by the [CoE’s] Committee of Ministers, which is a political structure. The Demirtaş judgment will blow over and die out among red tape, requests and condemnations.”
‘Expulsion from the CoE not possible’
Aydın says the opposition’s claims that Turkey could be stripped of its CoE membership over its non-compliance with ECtHR decisions are baseless. He says the ECtHR is unable to impose sanctions on countries that don’t implement its decisions and that Erdoğan knows this very well.
“The CoE has budgetary issues. At one point its secretary-general said they were about to go bankrupt. Everyone knows the CoE is in financial crisis. So does Erdoğan, of course. Turkey makes contributions [to the CoE],” Aydın says.
“If the Demirtaş verdict is not implemented, Turkey will be condemned and pressured, but it won’t go beyond that. Erdoğan knows this. Russia also defies ECtHR judgments. Expulsion from the CoE is a sanction only on paper; it can never actually be implemented.”
Aydın also points out that the European court has contradicted itself in its rulings concerning Turkey and that this contradiction is exactly the angle Erdoğan uses to criticize the ECtHR.
“Erdoğan says he considers the judgment political and that he will not comply with it. There are cases that have been going on for 30 years where Turkey did not abide by rulings. The ECtHR was silent on Turkey’s non-compliance then. Now, if it adopts a harsher stance in the Demirtaş case, it will have contradicted itself,” Aydın says. “As far as I see, that is the point of view from which Turkey advances its narrative.”
‘ECtHR unprincipled when it comes to Turkey’
Aydın also criticized ECtHR President Róbert Spanó’s visit to Turkey in September, describing his appearances and meetings as a “disgrace.”
“The ECtHR has an unprincipled stance on Turkey. On the one hand it does not want to declare Turkey’s judiciary completely unreliable and wants to keep the system intact. On the other hand it grants priority to some individuals it deems important and tries to save them, such as Demirtaş and imprisoned activist Osman Kavala,” Aydın says.
“However, this causes big contradictions. The Constitutional Court’s recognition by the ECtHR as a domestic remedy is the best example of the ECtHR’s inconsistency.”
Aydın also claims that Turkey enjoys a strong lobby within the Strasbourg court and exerts influence over the court’s internal procedures, including the method and timing of judgments.
“The ECtHR is a CoE mechanism, and former CoE Secretary-General Thorbjørn Jagland of Norway had significantly close financial relations with Erdoğan, about which Norwegian newspapers have published reports. On the other hand, the ECtHR president’s visit to Turkey a few months ago, when he even received presents, was an unbelievable sight,” Aydın says.
“If the ECtHR wanted to sanction Turkey, it has many cases on its docket to do just that. The judicial mechanism of the Erdoğan regime would lose its entire legitimacy if the court had just said the Turkish Constitutional Court was not an effective domestic remedy. There are criminal judgeships of peace in Turkey that order mass detentions. These were set up by Erdoğan in 2014. The ECtHR saw no problems when applications were filed about these courts. Let alone annulling their decisions, the ECtHR has not even expressed concern that these courts might be arresting people upon instructions.”
Demirtaş behind bars since 2016
Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was arrested in 2016 following a failed military coup. He spent over four years in prison on account of his speeches. Demirtaş is charged with supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated a terrorist organization by Turkey.
In a general election in June 2015, Demirtaş’s HDP received 13 percent of the vote, causing Erdoğan to lose his parliamentary majority. Prior to his arrest, he was known as one of Erdoğan’s most influential opponents, drawing for the first time Turkish votes for a pro-Kurdish political party.