CoE ‘strongly’ urges Turkish authorities to release Demirtaş

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The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on Thursday adopted an interim resolution “strongly urging” Turkish authorities to assure the immediate release of imprisoned Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş.

Demirtaş was co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) when he was arrested in November 2016. He has been behind bars since then despite a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling in November 2018 that Demirtaş’s pre-trial 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.

The Committee of Ministers, referring to ECtHR judgments from 2018 and 2020 which had found that the detention of Demirtaş pursued the “ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate” and ordered his immediate release, expressed “profound concern that the applicant has been continuously deprived of his liberty since November 2016.”

The resolution underlined that Turkey is obliged to take measures to restore Demirtaş, as far as possible, “to the position he would have enjoyed had these violations not occurred,” saying that such measures should be “compatible with the conclusions and spirit of the Court’s judgment.”

The ministers also “expressed the strong hope that the [Turkish] Constitutional Court concludes its examination of the applicant’s complaints in the shortest possible timeframe and in a manner compatible with the spirit and conclusions of the [European] Court’s judgment.”

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. Demirtaş conducted his election campaign from jail for the 2018 election.

Today, the Council of Europe said it would launch disciplinary action against Turkey for refusing to free prominent activist and businessman Osman Kavala.

The Committee of Ministers decided on the move over Turkey’s repeated refusal to comply with a 2019 ruling by the ECtHR to release Kavala from prison, it said in a statement. The committee is responsible for overseeing the implementation of verdicts from the court.

The CoE will start the so-called infringement proceedings, used only once before in the organization’s history against Azerbaijan in 2017 over its refusal to release a dissident.

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