European court urges Turkey to free Kurdish politician Demirtas

ECHR says extensions to his detention for last two years are not justified, calling end to his pre-trial imprisonment.

Umut HDP Turkey elections 1
Selahattin Demirtas has been in prison since November 2016 [Umut Uras/Al Jazeera]

A lawyer of Selahattin Demirtas, a pro-Kurdish opposition politician in  Turkey, has applied for his release, shortly after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that his pre-trial imprisonment was “unjustified” and urged his release.

In Tuesday’s judgment, the top human rights court accepted that Demirtas, who has been in jail since November 2016, had been arrested on “reasonable suspicion” of having committed a criminal offence.

But the ECHR said judicial authorities had extended the politician’s imprisonment on grounds that could not be regarded as “sufficient” to justify its duration.

It added that his pre-trial imprisonment interfered with his freedom of expression as he could not take part in parliament activities as an elected MP.

Later on Tuesday, Benan Molu, one of the the politician’s lawyers, told Al Jazeera that an application for Demirtas’s release had been filed to the Ankara court responsible for the case.

The lawyers expect the court to make the decision to release Demirtas as soon as possible as instructed by the ECHR judgment, she added.

Later on Tuesday, Demirtas released a short statement which said: “My position as a political hostage has been legally confirmed”.

Demirtas, 45, was a co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). 

He, along with several other former HDP members of parliament, has been in jail for two years on the charge of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party ( PKK ), which has been fighting the Turkish army for more autonomy since the 1980s. Demirtas was arrested after his immunity as MP was lifted earlier in 2016.

Demirtas denies the charges. His trial began in December last year and he faces up to 142 years in prison. He received his first sentencing last September for carrying out “terrorist propaganda” for a speech he made in 2013.

‘Ulterior purpose’

The ECHR said in its judgment the extensions of his detention were “beyond reasonable doubt”, especially during his campaigns for April 2017 constitutional referendum and June 2018 presidential election.

“[The extensions of detention] had pursued the predominant ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate, which was at the very core of the concept of a democratic society,” the court’s statement said.


“The Court therefore held, unanimously, that the respondent state was to take all necessary measures to put an end to the applicant’s pre-trial detention,” it added.

The former HDP co-leader was his party’s presidential candidate in the last elections and campaigned against the constitutional changes in 2017. He tried to campaign from the prison through social media in both cases. 

Amnesty International’s senior Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner said the ECHR’s judgment on the Demirtas case has an immense importance, not only for the politician but for the judicial system in Turkey.


“It is the first time the court found a violation according to the Article 18 of the convention. In line with that, the judgment says Demirtas’s detention is not only unjustified, but also politically motivated. For the court to declare this is huge,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is meaningful not only for this particular case, but for all the cases of journalists, activists and human rights defenders, who are in prison on unjustified charges in Turkey. This decision can be made equally in their cases,” he added.

Gardner also said Demirtas should be released right away as the court made it clear that the only way to implement its judgment is to end his pre-trial custody.

In his first comments after the ECHR judgment, Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul was quoted by the state media that the court responsible for the case will make the decision on the issue, but added that the ECHR judgments are part of “domestic law”. 

Turkey is one of the 47 signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights that established the supranational human rights court, which makes legally binding verdicts on the cases related to the signatories in question.

Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras

Source: Al Jazeera