The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has defended its president's controversial visit to Turkey by saying that it was "standard practice" for court presidents to meet the political and judicial authorities of member states of the Council of Europe.
ECHR President Robert Spano drew ire for meeting with government officials in Turkey, especially President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, despite grave human rights violations in the country.
Spano also received an honorary doctorate from Istanbul University and visited the southeastern province of Mardin, where he was accompanied by a government official who was appointed as mayor after the elected Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) official was sacked by the interior ministry — part of a broader crackdown against the party.
He didn't meet with any opposition figures.
According to the ECHR, Spano had accepted the invitation to “convey a very important message” that those in power cannot control the courts and that judgments by the ECHR must be “respected and enforced," Financial Times reported.
In Turkey, critics including prominent lawyers and civil society activists have accused the Council of Europe of failing to take a tough enough stance against Erdoğan's human rights violations.The highlights and outcries of Spano’s visit to Turkey
Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP's former co-chair who has been imprisoned for almost four years, said the ECHR had failed to prevent Erdoğan from abusing the country’s courts, leaving him and thousands of others languishing in jail.
He said that he and other high-profile detainees had been forced to wait years to have their cases heard by the ECHR even as international watchdogs have warned of a severe erosion of Turkish judicial independence and the rule of law.
“The European Court of Human Rights takes a long time to make decisions and, in the end, even if they rule that there has been a violation [of human rights], it doesn’t produce any practical results,” Demirtaş told Financial Times.
While the politician stressed that only the Turkish people themselves could rescue their country from what he called its “bad state of affairs," he said that the ECHR should provide “support” through its decisions to those fighting for change in the country.An open letter to ECtHR President Robert Spano
The ECHR told the Financial Times that some cases “still take too long” but said that Demirtaş's case had been granted priority status.
The Turkish government accuses Demirtaş of supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU. Demirtaş denies supporting terrorism and says his party has always backed a peaceful solution to Turkey’s decades-old Kurdish conflict.
The ECHR has issued two rulings on Demirtaş's case, in 2018 and 2019, both of which found violations of his rights. The first of those decisions said that his pre-trial detention, which spanned two “crucial” elections, “pursued the predominant ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate” and ordered his immediate release.
But his lawyers said prosecutors have deliberately sought to circumvent the ECHR decisions and the politician remains behind bars. He was convicted in 2018 of making terrorist propaganda for a 2013 speech and is facing several other terrorism-related charges that carry a maximum sentence of 142 years in jail.Former HDP co-chair Demirtaş dismisses claims that he's 'planning to found new party'
Both Demirtaş and the Turkish government have appealed the 2018 ECHR decision on different grounds, and the Strasbourg court’s highest authority, the grand chamber, is expected to make a final ruling in the coming months.
After four years in prison, 1,200 km from his family home, Demirtaş — who was briefly hospitalized last year — said he was suffering from worsening health although his morale was “good."
“I don’t think it’s right to constantly talk about the jail conditions and my own health, because there are thousands of others being held in prison in much worse conditions,” he said.