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Erdoğan aide calls for release of political prisoners Demirtaş, Kavala

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Bülent Arınç, a member of Turkey’s Presidential High Advisory Board, has expressed support for the release of jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş and prominent businessman and human rights activist Osman Kavala, hinting that they are being held in jail based on poorly drafted indictments.

Arınç’s remarks came during a program on Haber Türk TV on Thursday evening.

He said he was appalled when he read the indictments for Demirtaş and Kavala due to their poor and legally weak content

“I am astounded by the imprisonment of Kavala. … Demirtaş could be released from prison,” said Arınç.

Demirtaş, who was the co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) when he was arrested in November 2016, has been behind bars since then despite a decision from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in November 2018 that ruled Demirtaş’s pre-trial detention was a political act and ordered his release. Turkish courts refused to implement the European court’s ruling, and a regional appeals court in Turkey subsequently upheld a prison sentence given to Demirtaş for disseminating terrorist propaganda.

Demirtaş was an outspoken critic of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party and its leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, before he was jailed. He ran twice in the presidential elections of 2014 and 2018 as a rival to Erdoğan. Demirtaş conducted his election campaign from jail for the 2018 presidential election.

Arınç also said he read a book written by Demirtaş in jail, titled “Devran,” and that he better understood the agonies experienced by the country’s Kurdish population.

“Perhaps your ideas about Demirtaş will not change, but you will understand what Kurds have gone through. Your ideas about Kurds might change,” he added.

The existence of Kurdish identity has long been denied in Turkey, and Kurds have frequently been associated with terrorism due to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a bloody war in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984 and is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU and the US as well as Turkey.

“Kurds are one of the oppressed groups in this country. We should also read in the stories of ‘Devran’ about the incidents [acts of torture and maltreatment against Kurds] that took place in Diyarbakır Prison in 1980 [following a military coup],” Arınç said as he called on the country’s judges to think “pro-freedom” to ensure Demirtaş’s release.

Kavala has been in jail since November 2017. He was initially accused of financing the nationwide anti-government Gezi protests in 2013, but he was acquitted on those charges in February and was ordered to be released. However, he was rearrested the same day on charges related to an attempted coup that took place in 2016 in a move described by his lawyers as a tactic to circumvent a ruling from the ECtHR, which ruled in December 2019 that Kavala’s detention was unlawful and called for his immediate release.

The court said by detaining Kavala since November 2017 and prosecuting him, the Turkish authorities had “pursued an ulterior purpose, namely, to silence him as a human rights defender.”

Turkish courts failed to comply with the European court ruling.

“Judges and prosecutors, I am astounded by the continued imprisonment of Kavala. He should be released,” said Arınç.

His remarks came shortly after Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) demanded the names of judges and prosecutors involved in court decisions to arrest Kavala.

The HSK, which is responsible for the appointment, promotion, transfer, discipline and dismissal of judges and prosecutors, last Wednesday wrote to the İstanbul Justice Commission for the information as they deliberate which judicial personnel to promote.

The names of judges and prosecutors sought in the letter also included those involved in rulings that failed to honor the European court decision calling for Kavala’s immediate release in December 2019.

Arınç’s remarks also follow a recent promise from Turkish President Erdoğan, who said his government would soon introduce a new wave of reforms in the country’s economy and judiciary.

“We are starting a new period of reforms in the economy and judiciary in our country,” Erdoğan said, adding that his government would launch a campaign focusing on stability, growth and employment.

Opponents, however, called Erdoğan’s reform promise into question, considering Turkey’s past record on the rule of law, democracy, human rights and freedoms, and management of the economy.

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