Demirtaş says new German gov’t should push Turkey to improve rights record

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Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who has been behind bars on terrorism-related charges for five years, on Thursday called on the incoming German government to put pressure on Ankara to improve its poor human rights record, in an interview with the DPA news agency.

“I hope the new German government will pursue policies that are more closely tied to European values and human rights,” the jailed Kurdish leader told DPA through his lawyers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conservatives lost in the Sept. 26 election to the center-left Social Democrats, will leave office after a coalition government is established. Having served as chancellor since 2005, Merkel did not run in the September elections.

Demirtaş also said the new German government shouldn’t think President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan represents the entirety of the country.

Referring to a closure case underway against the HDP, Turkey’s second-largest opposition party, which was accepted by the Constitutional Court in June, the politician said it was a part of Erdoğan’s “intimidation operation” targeting the opposition.

Demirtaş added that Erdoğan was keeping the judiciary under his control, that he assigned the closure case to certain judges and prosecutors loyal to him and therefore, it wasn’t possible for them to have a fair trial or a lawful verdict.

Despite receiving criticism from German opposition parties, Merkel refrained from taking a harsh stance against the authoritarian policies of Erdoğan. She maintained constant dialogue with Erdoğan, visiting Turkey 11 times over the course of her tenure. She focused on finding ways to cooperate with him in turbulent times and repeatedly underlined the importance of having channels of communication open in order to ease tensions in the eastern Mediterranean and seek solutions to the conflicts in Syria and Libya.

Demirtaş said neither he nor his party had any connection to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, emphasizing that the HDP was a democratic political party that promotes only peaceful methods to solve Turkey’s problems.

In the 850-page indictment calling for the imposition of a political ban on 451 party members as well as a freeze on the party’s bank accounts, the pro-Kurdish party is accused of links to the outlawed PKK.

Erdoğan’s systematic campaign to restrict the rights of the HDP over the past few years, which includes the closure case and the detention of more than 5,000 HDP lawmakers, executives and party members on politically motivated charges, has prompted international condemnation.

Arrested on November 4, 2016, on terrorism-related charges, Demirtaş has since then remained in prison despite two European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings in 2018 and 2020 that said the politician was imprisoned for “political” reasons and not for “legal” reasons, ordering his “immediate release.”

The Council of Europe also called on Turkey to immediately release the Kurdish politician on September 17, 2021.

Although the ECtHR rulings are legally binding, there have been many instances in which Turkey has not implemented them. President Erdoğan has dismissed both rulings on Demirtaş, accusing the court of applying a double standard and of hypocrisy.

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