In its defense with regards to the ongoing imprisonment of former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş, the Turkish government said that the renowned politician might be “released on probation” on Nov. 3, and if that does not happen, he will serve his time until Jan. 3, 2023, Deutsche Welle's Turkish service reported on Oct. 8.
The Turkish government's written defense came after the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers gave its last warning to Ankara and called on the relevant authorities to provide information on Demirtaş's case until Sept. 30.
The Committee of Ministers oversees the implementation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decisions.
In its answer, Ankara argued that the ECHR's ruling only covered Demirtaş's detention period from Nov. 4, 2016 to Dec. 7, 2018 and that the politician is currently imprisoned in a different case launched against him in September 2019.
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office had ordered Demirtaş's arrest in September 2019 as part of an investigation into the 2014 Kobane protests.
Although launched in 2019 as a "new" investigation, charges in the Kobane case were actually included in the main case for which Demirtaş was detained and was discharged previously.
Ankara said that Demirtaş's lawyers had already filed complaints with the Turkish Constitutional Court and ECHR with regards to his imprisonment concerning the Kobane case, and neither of the courts had so far released their decision with regards these applications.
The Turkish government, therefore, argued that the call by the Committee of Ministers for Demirtaş's release was “not based on any legal ground.”
Demirtaş faces multiple trials including the Kobane case, for which he could be sentenced to 142 years if convicted on terrorism charges.
The Committee of Ministers sees the ongoing imprisonment of Demirtaş as an extension of the rights violation determined in the ECHR's 2020 ruling. In contrary to the Turkish government's theses, the Committee says that Demirtaş's ongoing imprisonment needs to be handled within the context of the ECHR's ruling. The Committee bases this argument on freedom of speech and the parliamentary immunity of Demirtaş when he was serving as a lawmaker.
The Committee of Ministers will handle this issue once again during a meeting between Nov. 3-Dec. 2 in Strasbourg. If Turkey refuses to implement the ECHR's ruling by then, the Committee is expected to initiate an infringement process against the member state.
Demirtaş was detained on Nov. 4, 2016, along with several HDP MPs and HDP co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ. He has been in prison since. As part of the mass arrests following the July 2016 coup attempt, they were charged with spreading “terrorist propaganda” for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The Grand Chamber of the ECHR ruled on Dec. 22, 2020 that Demirtaş had his rights violated under five different categories, including freedom of expression and liberty.
The Grand Chamber said Demirtaş’s pre-trial detention since November 2016 had sent “a dangerous message to the entire population” that sharply narrowed free democratic debate.
The ECHR said it saw no evidence in decisions on Demirtaş’s detention that linked his actions and the alleged offenses.
“The Court concluded that the reasons put forward by the authorities for the applicant’s pre-trial detention had merely been cover for an ulterior political purpose, which was a matter of indisputable gravity for democracy,” it said in its finding.