CoE may launch infringement proceedings against Turkey over its failure to free Kavala

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The Council of Europe’s (CoE) Council of Ministers on Thursday threatened for the first time to launch disciplinary proceedings against Turkey over its failure to implement a court order to release philanthropist Osman Kavala.

In its decision regarding Turkey’s failure to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Kavala v. Turkey, the Council of Ministers said it may resort to all means at its disposal including infringement proceedings under Article 46 § 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights in order to ensure implementation of the judgment.

A civil society activist and critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Kavala has been in jail since his arrest in 2017, facing myriad shifting charges linked to protests in 2013 and a 2016 attempted coup.

Kavala had been kept in detention since October 18, 2017 because of Turkish courts failure to abide by the ECtHR’s rulings, the decision noted, adding that there was no evidence to justify his imprisonment.

Stating that Kavala remains in prison in defiance of a December 2019 ruling by the ECtHR with the intention silencing him, the council said the “continuing arbitrary detention” of Kavala was “a flagrant breach” of Turkey’s commitments under the convention and “unacceptable in a State subject to the rule of law.”

The council added that it had decided to ensure implementation of the ECtHR judgment through “all the means at the disposal of the Organization, including if necessary infringement proceedings.”

Infringement proceedings can result in the suspension of the member state’s voting rights and membership in the CoE, which Turkey joined in 1950, according to Human Rights Watch.

The possibility of launching infringement proceedings against a member state for failing to implement ECtHR judgments has only been used once before, in 2017 in the case of Azerbaijani opposition activist Ilgar Mammadov.

The council also examined the case of former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş, another dissident who Erdoğan refuses to release from prison despite a decision by the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR.

The ECtHR found that Demirtaş was taken into custody without “reasonable suspicion he had committed an offence” and that his arrest and pre-trial detention had an “ulterior purpose” as they came during two critical election campaigns, the decision stated.

This purpose was “to stifle pluralism and limit freedom of political debate,” the decision noted.

The council said Demirtaş’s conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals and that Demirtaş had started to serve his prison sentence.

Turkish authorities were invited “to submit the text of the judgment of the Court of Cassation and a translation thereof, together with comprehensive information on the consequences of the above conviction.”

Turkey was also asked to provide information on measures designed to strengthen the Turkish judiciary against any interference and ensure its full independence, in an action plan it will submit by June 22.

Demirtaş’s lawyer Benan Molu indicated that the council will resume its examination of the case in September.

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.

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