The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on Tuesday urged Turkey to swiftly process the legal case of the ex-leader of the pro-Kurdish opposition, saying his pretrial detention had gone on longer than could be justified, Reuters reported.
Selahattin Demirtaş, former co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and one of Turkey’s best known politicians, was sentenced in September to more than four years in jail on terrorism charges related to a speech he gave in 2013.
Having already spent nearly two years in prison awaiting trial for those alleged offenses, he had effectively already served out the prison term handed down by the Turkish court.
But Demirtaş remains in prison facing several more terrorism-related charges, mostly for other speeches he gave, that could see him sentenced to up to 142 years in jail if found guilty.
“The Court found that the judicial authorities had extended Mr Demirtaş’ detention on grounds that could not be regarded as ‘sufficient’ to justify its duration,” the Strasbourg-based ECtHR said in a statement.
The ECtHR ruled that Ankara “was to take all necessary measures to put an end to the applicant’s pre-trial detention.”
Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül dismissed the court’s ruling, saying the country’s judiciary would decide on Demirtaş’s cases.
The government accuses the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States. The HDP denies this.
The ECtHR also criticized Turkey for keeping Demirtaş detained during two elections: a constitutional referendum in 2017 and this year’s presidential ballot.
“The extensions of Mr Demirtaş’ detention, especially during two crucial campaigns … pursued the predominant ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate,” it said.
The court, which awarded Demirtaş 10,000 euros ($11,430) in damages and a further 15,000 euros in costs, ruled against a number of his other complaints and accepted that he had been arrested and detained on “reasonable suspicion” of having committed a criminal offense.
Kati Piri, EU rapporteur on Turkey, said the clear ECtHR verdict meant Demirtaş should be released immediately. “His detention is of a political, not a criminal nature.”
Kerem Altıparmak, a prominent Turkish human rights advocate and professor, also called for Demirtaş’s immediate release as his pre-trial detention was now in violation of both domestic and international law.
ECtHR rulings are in theory binding, but there have been many instances in which Turkey has not implemented them, paying fines instead.