The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers has once again warned Turkey over its failure to implement European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rulings concerning philanthropist Osman Kavala and former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş, who remain behind bars in Turkey despite ECHR rulings to immediately release both.
The Committee reiterated the need for the immediate release of Kavala and Demirtaş on Friday and suggested an alternative solution for the detention of Demirtaş pending the resolution of his case. The Committee also discussed possible additional measures to ensure the implementation of the ECHR decisions in relation to Kavala.
With regard to both the Kavala and Demirtaş decisions, the Committee called on the authorities to take all necessary measures to “protect the judiciary from excessive influence by the executive”, in line with relevant Council of Europe standards.
In the case of Demirtaş, the Committee emphasised that his detention as a result of the stripping of his parliamentary immunity and his subsequent imprisonment for his political speeches had effectively made it impossible for him to engage in political activities. The Committee strongly deplored the fact that Demirtaş, along with others in a similar situation, such as former HDP co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ, remained in detention despite the court’s findings and the Committee’s decisions.
If the Turkish authorities do not heed these calls and do not release Demirtaş and Kavala, the issue will be raised again at the December meeting of the Committee of Ministers.
Overall, the Committee reiterated its call for legal or other measures to be taken to ensure effective protection of parliamentary immunity for political speech by parliamentarians and to safeguard political pluralism.
Initial detention and subsequent charges
In a series of operations carried out across Turkey targeting the HDP executives, former HDP Co-Chair Demirtaş was detained in Diyarbakır (Amed) in November 2016. Subsequently, he was sent to prison on terrorism charges.
While Demirtaş faced a primary trial with seven separate criminal charges, he was also sentenced to four years and eight months in prison in another case for “terrorist propaganda” due to a speech he delivered during the peace process.
During this process, the ECHR issued its initial violation ruling in November 2018, demanding Demirtaş’s release. After President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s reaction to the ECHR ruling, saying, “It does not bind us. We will take countermeasures and resolve the matter,” the court did not implement the ECHR’s decision.
Following an appeal, the case was referred to the ECHR Grand Chamber. Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals upheld Demirtaş’s four-year, eight-month sentence, resulting in him being both a detainee and a convict.
As the main trial of Demirtaş continued, the ECHR Grand Chamber was set to address the non-execution of the violation ruling in September 2019. However, in a move to circumvent a potential ECHR decision, the local court issued a release order for Demirtaş during a hearing in September 2019. Nevertheless, due to a previously finalised prison sentence, Demirtaş was not released.
Right after this, in September 2019, a Turkish public prosecutor once again detained Demirtaş, who was already in prison, this time as part of the Kobane investigation.
Upon Demirtaş not being released, the ECHR Grand Chamber, in a decision in December 2020, affirmed the violation decision. ECHR stated that Demirtaş’s detention was “politically motivated” and demanded his urgent release. However, Turkey did not implement this decision either.
The main trial in which Demirtaş was being tried and the Kobane case in which he was imprisoned were merged in May 2021.
Due to the non-implementation of the ECHR decision, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which monitors Turkey, had given until September to release Demirtaş. The Committee warned that if no release decision was made within this period, they would take “new measures”.