European court orders release of Kurdish politician Demirtas

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that pre-detention of pro-Kurdish opposition politician Selahattin Demirtas was “unjustified”, urging his release.

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

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

The court said that his pre-trial detention interfered with his freedom of expression as he could not take part in parliament activities as an elected MP.

Selahattin 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 since November 2016, accused of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Demirtas, 45, who denies the charges, has been in pre-trial detention since then. His trial began in December last year and, if convicted, he faces up to 142 years in prison. He received his first sentecing last September for carrying out “terrorist propaganda” for a speech he made in 2013.

The former HDP co-leader was the his party’s presidential candidate in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. He tried to campaign from the prison through social media. 

‘Ulterior purpose’

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

“[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.

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