The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Selahattin Demirtas, the Kurdish leader in charge of Turkey’s People’s Democratic Party, needs to be released immediately from a Turkish prison immediately, a decision that will likely be met with scord from the authoritarian government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, particularly after Erdogan has repeatedly trampled on the Turkish constitution and has jailed or forced into exile most of his political and social rivals
The Court ruled that Demirtas’ arrest on terrorism charges violated the European Convention on Human Rights and was motivated by Erdogan and his ruling AK party to limit the political debate in the country, particularly over the plight of Turkey’s 15 million-strong Kurdish population, most of whom have been subjected to painful discrimminatory policies for most of the modern Turkish Republic’s 90-year history.
Under Erdogan’s Islamist-based AK Party, relations with the Kurds had improved somewhat after he allowed the Kurdish population to teach and publish materials in the local dialect of the Kurhish language, known as Kurmanji. Though the language was allowed in public for the first time, Erdogan still stipulated thatKurmanji had to be written in the Latin script used by the Turks. This effectively cut Turkey’s Kurds off from their ethnic kin in Iraq, Syria, and Iran who use a modified Arabic script.
Erdogan, however, has cracked down on the Kurds’ political ambitions as their party gained more mainstream support. Demirtas was sentenced to five years in prison in September 2018, in connection to a speech he delivered in 2013 and has been in jail since November 2016 after Erdogan accused him of having ties to the PKK, the outlawed armed Kurdish party that has been at war with the Turkish government since the 1980s.
Demirtas, a former human rights lawyer, has steadfastly denied any links to the PKK or any group that advocates violence against the Turkish state. His detention has caused relations between the EU and Turkey to worsen at time when Brussels and Ankara are already at odds over a whole host of issues, including Erdogan’s human rights record and penchant for stamping out free speech.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, openly criticised Demirtas’ detention during a recent jointpress conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Cavusoglu followed Erdogan’s common line and demanded that the EU to stop defending his government’s opponents.
Erdogan responded to the court’s ruling that the Turkish government has to pay Demirtas €250,000 as compensation for damages and costs by lashing out at the court and vowing never to honour its decision.
This is the first time that the ECHR has ruled that a country has conspired to violate the right of a sitting politician to remain active as a lawmaker.
Eight more Turkish opposition members of parliament have been imprisoned by Erdogan since an alleged coup against the government failed in July 2016. In addition, he has jailed opposition 6,000 party activists and mayors.