The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Thursday calling on Turkey to comply with a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for the immediate release of Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been behind bars for more than four years on politically motivated charges.
The text was approved by 590 votes in favor, 16 against and 75 abstentions.
Demirtaş has been in prison since November 2016 on terrorism charges in spite of two binding rulings in favor of his release by the ECtHR. The Turkish government still refuses to release Demirtaş, and a Turkish court on Jan. 7 accepted a new indictment against him and 107 others calling for life sentences on 38 counts.
In the resolution, the EP calls for Demirtaş’s immediate and unconditional release from detention in compliance with a 2018 judgment from the ECtHR and confirmed by the ruling of its Grand Chamber on Dec. 22, 2020 and to drop all charges against him and another jailed Kurdish politician, Figen Yüksekdağ, former co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, and the other imprisoned members of the party.
The HDP has been the subject of a government crackdown since a coup attempt in July 2016, leading to the arrest of hundreds of its politicians and the removal of democratically elected mayors, mainly in the country’s Southeast.
The EP reminded the Turkish authorities that their failure to release Demirtaş constitutes a direct violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and of its domestic law, an unjustifiable prolongation of the violation of Demirtaş’s rights and a blatant breach of Turkey’s obligation to implement the rulings of the ECtHR, insisting that the ECtHR judgment means that the Turkish authorities must release him immediately.
In December the Strasbourg-based court found Turkey guilty of violating the rights of Demirtaş on five counts including violation of the rights to freedom of expression, liberty and security and free elections as well as limitations on the use of restrictions on rights. The court’s ruling was made by its Grand Chamber following appeals from both Turkey and Demirtaş to the court’s original ruling in November 2018.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sounded defiant in the wake of the European court’s ruling, accusing it of acting with hypocrisy and making a ruling without the exhaustion of domestic remedies.
Demirtaş was an outspoken critic of 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.
Erdoğan and his government have accused of Demirtaş of being a “terrorist” due to his alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and has slammed calls for his release.
Kati Piri, a member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, said on Wednesday prior to a visit by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to Brussels on Thursday: “It is time we start to apply pressure that Erdoğan understands. The Turkish foreign minister’s visit to Brussels tomorrow is useless if there is only talk and no action from the side of the authorities. With political prisoners like Demirtaş and [businessman and activist] Osman Kavala in jail, there can be no improvement in relations.”
“The S&D Group expects all EU capitals to be vocal. The HDP party represents 6 million people in Turkey. Their leaders, their MPs, their mayors and their activists have all been thrown in jail. It is high time the European Union spoke up for the rights of Turkey’s citizens,” she added.