A Turkish appeals court cast aside a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on December 6 and openly challenged their authority by upholding the prison sentence of Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the pro-Kurdish political entity that champions participatory democracy, women’s and religious minority rights, and which has been in fierce opposition to the authoritarian government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Kurdish politician was tried and convicted for what most outside observers say were trumped up charges of inciting terrorism and sedition during a speech he delivered in 2013. He is in detention since November 2016, after Erdogan personally accused him of having ties to the PKK, the outlawed armed Kurdish insurgent group that has been at war with the Turkish government since the 1980s.
Demirtas has denied any links to the PKK or any group that advocates violence against the Turkish state. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, openly criticised Demirtas’ detention during a recent joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. which prompted the latter to tow Erdogan’s common line and demanded that the EU to stop siding with the Turkish opposition over questions of human rights and democracy in Turkey.
Demirtas was formally sentenced in September 2018 after spending two years in pre-trial detention and was later sentenced to 56-months in prison.
The ECHR ruled that Erdogan’s rubber stamp courts violated the fundamentals of both internationally recognised human rights principles and the constitutional structure of the Turkish justice system – which has been under constant pressure from Erdogan and his Islamist ruling party, the AKP.
The European court ruled that Demirtas’ arrest and detention were both politically motivated. and carried out to ensure Demirtas did not participate in the political debate around the April 2017 constitutional referendum that granted Erdogan near-dictatorial executive presidential powers.
The ruling is the first in the history of the ECHR when the court has ruled that a country has conspired to violate the right of a sitting politician to remove him from the political process.
Demirtas’ legal team has argued that Ankara is obliged, as a signatory, to respect the Strasbourg-based court’s judgement, a demand that the Erdogan government has dismissed.