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Turkish court keeps Kurdish politician in jail

December 1, 2018

A Turkish court has defied a European Court of Human Rights ruling demanding the release of Selahattin Demirtas. The decision comes after Turkey's president said the European court's decisions were non-binding.

Selahattin Demirtas
Image: Reuters/U. Bektas

A Turkish court on Friday rejected an appeal to free a top Kurdish politician from prison despite a European human rights court ruling demanding his release.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on November 20 that the pretrial detention of Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), served the "ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting the freedom of political debate" and demanded his immediate release.

Demirtas' lawyers then filed an appeal to an Ankara court calling for his release. In its ruling, the court said the ECHR decision had not been finalized.

The ECHR enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory. The court's rulings are binding for member states.

'Political decision'

Following the ECHR ruling, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, "The decisions delivered by the ECHR do not bind us."

The EU's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, last week called for Demirtas' release, prompting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to say her comments were "out of line."

The HDP said on Friday that the Ankara court decision was in violation of the Turkish constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court made a "totally political decision under pressure from President Erdogan and the government," HDP co-chairs Pervin Buldan and Sezai Temelli said in a statement.

Crackdown on the Kurds

Demirtas, a human rights lawyer by training, has been in pretrial detention for two years on terrorism-related charges. In September, he was sentenced to more than four years in prison for spreading terrorist propaganda in a 2013 speech. He faces up to 142 years in jail for other terrorism-related charges.

In the June 2018 Turkish presidential election, Demirtas ran as the HDP's candidate from prison and picked up 8.4 percent of the vote. 

Türkei Selahattin Demirtas Fernsehansprache
In June, Demirtas appeared on television from prison to give a campaign speech ahead of the presidential election. Image: Imago/Depo Photos

The left-wing HDP is the third largest party in the Turkish parliament and typically polls at around 11 percent. The Turkish government accuses it of having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the state. The HDP denies any links to the PKK.

More than 5,000 HDP members are in jail and several Kurdish parliamentarians are in prison or face terrorism charges. In the wake of the 2016 failed coup attempt, dozens of HDP controlled municipalities were taken over by government-appointed officials. 

cw/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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