Human Rights Watch (HRW) and ARTICLE 19 on Nov. 19 released a joint statement calling on Turkey to immediately release jailed former co-chairs of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ.
The statement said the arrest of Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ in 2016, along with other HDP politicians, was the “the start of the government’s ongoing assault on the party and part of a broader pattern of politically motivated prosecutions and incarcerations in the wake of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.”
“Over the past four years the Turkish government has distorted and perverted the legal process to serve the political aim of keeping opposition politicians Selahattin Demirtaş, Figen Yüksekdağ, and other former HDP deputies locked up,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“The Turkish government has misused detention and criminal proceedings in a campaign of persecution against Demirtaş in particular, including by flouting a European Court of Human Rights’ order to release him and concocting new baseless charges to keep him behind bars.”
Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ marked four years in prison on Nov. 4. They were arrested on charges related to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in what the party calls "a political coup."
The arrest of HDP deputies is based on a controversial constitutional amendment and parliamentary vote in May 2016 that lifted their parliamentary immunity.
The HRW and ARTICLE 19 said that international bodies including the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, which advises on constitutional matters, strongly criticized the way the deputies’ parliamentary immunity was lifted.
In individualized proceedings after they were detained en masse, the members of parliament stood trial on charges of “membership of a terrorist organization,” “spreading terrorist propaganda,” and many other crimes.
“The decision to lift immunity from prosecution for parliamentarians in Turkey has enabled serious attacks on democratic institutions in Turkey,” said Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19.
“The speeches of President Erdoğan concerning Demirtaş and the subsequent refusal of the court to release him, despite the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, is a shocking reminder of the power of the executive in Turkey to influence court proceedings.”