The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held Tuesday that Turkey is to take all necessary measures to secure the immediate release of Selahattin Demirtaş, a Kurdish politician held by the Turkish government on terrorism charges. The Grand Chamber held that there had been multiple violations of the European Convention of Human Rights. It also found no evidence supporting Demirtaş’s detention that linked his actions and the alleged offenses. The Court concluded that “the purposes put forward by the authorities for the applicant’s pre-trial detention were merely cover for an ulterior political purpose, which is a matter of indisputable gravity for democracy.”
Between 2014-18, Demirtaş was a co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a left-wing pro-Kurdish political party. In 2016, a Turkish court ordered the pre-trial detention of Demirtaş for membership in an armed terrorist organization and public incitement to commit an offense. This was made possible by a temporary constitutional change, approved by parliament in May 2016, which lifted the parliamentary immunity of 154 members under investigation at that time for criminal offenses.
Demirtaş was charged with being a leading member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist organization by the US, EU, and Turkey. However, the HDP and Demirtaş have consistently denied any formal connection with the group. If convicted of being a leading member of the PKK, Demirtas faces up to 142 years in prison for his actions during protests in 2014 that turned violent and led to the deaths of 37 people.
In 2018, the ECHR ordered the release of Demirtaş, holding that his imprisonment had the “ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate.” However, Turkey’s President Erdogan said the ECHR rulings were not binding, and Demirtaş’ jailing was approved.
Demirtaş has responded to the ruling on Twitter.