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Political prisoner says Turkey was abandoned by European Court of Rights

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One of Turkey’s most prominent political prisoners said the European Court of Human Rights failed to stop President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from abusing the country’s courts, leaving him and thousands of ‘others languish in prison.

Selahattin Demirtas, the former Kurdish leader of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), said he and other high-level detainees had been forced to wait years for their case to be heard by the ECHR even as the International watchdogs had warned of serious erosion. Turkish judicial independence and the rule of law.

“The European Court of Human Rights takes a long time to take decisions and, in the end, even if it judges that there has been a violation [of human rights], it does not produce any practical results, ”Demirtas wrote from his cell in Edirne prison near the Greek border, in response to questions from the Financial Times.

While the politician stressed that only the Turkish people themselves could save their country from what he called its “bad state of affairs”, he said that the ECHR should give “support” through its decisions to those who are fighting for change in the country.

The ECHR told the FT that some cases “still take too long”, but said the Demirtas case had been granted priority status.

Demirtas, 47, led the HDP, a left-wing opposition party, to a historic election result in 2015 that made it the first Kurdish group to enter the Turkish parliament and caused the ruling party to lose the parliamentary majority. Mr. Erdogan.

He was arrested the following year in the upheaval that followed a violent coup attempt and the collapse of a peace process between the state and the armed militant group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) .

HDP supporters hold a photo of Demirtas jailed at a 2019 “ Peace and Justice ” rally in Istanbul © Yasin Akgul / AFP / Getty

The Turkish government accuses Demirtas of supporting the PKK, considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the EU. Demirtas denies supporting terrorism and says his party has always supported a peaceful solution to the decades-old Kurdish conflict in Turkey.

The ECHR rendered two judgments in the Demirtas case, in 2018 and 2019, both of which found violations of his rights. The first of these decisions stated that his pre-trial detention, which spanned two “crucial” elections, “pursued the predominant later objective of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate” and ordered his release. immediate.

But his lawyers said prosecutors have deliberately sought to circumvent the ECHR rulings and the politician remains behind bars. He was convicted in 2018 of making terrorist propaganda for a 2013 speech and faces several other terrorism-related charges carrying a maximum sentence of 142 years in prison.

Demirtas and the Turkish government have appealed the 2018 ECHR ruling on various grounds, and Strasbourg’s highest authority, the Grand Chamber, is expected to deliver a final decision in the coming months.

Founded after the Second World War with the mandate of ensuring respect for the commitments enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECHR and its supervisory body, the Council of Europe, have fought in recent years against the sub- funding, heavy workload and non-application of its judgments by member states.

In Turkey, critics, including prominent lawyers and civil society activists, accused the Council of Europe of failing to take a strong enough stance against Mr Erdogan’s human rights violations. They were furious this month when the new president of the ECHR, Robert Spano, took advantage of a visit to Turkey to meet with Mr Erdogan and senior judges, but not with opposition figures.

Mr Spano sparked new controversy during a visit to the southeastern town of Mardin, when he was accompanied by a government official who was installed as mayor after the elected HDP official was dismissed by the Ministry of the Interior – as part of a wider crackdown on the party. .

The ECHR declared that it was “common practice” for court presidents to meet with political and judicial authorities of Council of Europe member states. Mr. Spano had accepted the invitation to “convey a very important message” according to which those in power cannot control the courts and that the judgments of the ECHR must be “respected and executed”, he added.

Demirtas called the impeachment of dozens of HDP mayors “totally illegal”, adding that it showed that Turkey no longer even had “fragments of democracy”.

After four years in prison, 1,200 km from his family home, Demirtas – who was briefly hospitalized last year – said he was suffering from deteriorating health while his morale was “good”.

“I don’t think it’s fair to constantly talk about the conditions of detention and my own health, because thousands more are being held in much worse conditions,” he said.

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