7 April 2021 – The Turkish authorities must urgently abide by the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling of December 2020 and immediately and unconditionally release Selahattin Demirtaş, PEN International said today, as his trial is set to resume in Istanbul on 14 April. The writer and opposition politician has been held in pre-trial detention for over four years.
Former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş was arrested on 4 November 2016 on dubious terrorism charges. He faces up to 142 years in prison if convicted. The Turkish authorities have so far failed to implement a December 2020 ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, which found his detention to be politically motivated and ordered his immediate release. The Grand Chamber was ruling on an appeal of a landmark judgement issued by one of the Court’s regular chambers in November 2018, which notably called for Demirtaş’s immediate release. In March 2021, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers urged Turkey to implement the Court’s rulings, which are legally binding, and to free Demirtaş.
‘Each day that Selahattin Demirtaş spends behind bars is a tragedy and a reminder of Turkey’s blatant disregard for its obligations under international human rights law. The European Court of Human Rights twice ruled for Demirtaş’s immediate release yet the Turkish authorities are shamefully ignoring the rulings. As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey must abide by judgements of the European Court of Human Rights and free Demirtaş at once’ said Jennifer Clement, PEN International President.
Selahattin Demirtaş’s case is emblematic of the harassment, threats and persecution that critical voices have been facing in Turkey, particularly since the coup attempt of July 2016 and the breakdown of the rule of law that followed. On 9 June 2020, Turkey’s Constitutional Court found that there had not been relevant or sufficient grounds to extend Demirtaş’s detention, yet the lower courts are refusing to comply with its judgement. On 7 January 2021, a Turkish penal court approved a second indictment against Demirtaş, as part of a probe into deadly 2014 terror incidents. The indictment calls for life without parole.
‘Not only are the Turkish authorities flouting their international obligations towards Selahattin Demirtaş, they are wilfully violating their own laws as well. We remain deeply concerned over the independence of the judiciary and the continued harassment of writers and journalists in Turkey. As we call for Demirtaş’s freedom, we urge the Turkish authorities to release all those detained for peacefully expressing their views. This list includes Ahmet Altan and Nedim Türfent, as well as Osman Kavala who remains in prison despite the
European Court of Human Rights ordering his release nearly a year ago’, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
Selahattin Demirtaş stands accused of being a leading member of a terrorist organisation, spreading terrorist propaganda, praising crimes and criminals and inciting violence. The evidence used against him consists largely of his political speeches and press statements and lacks any compelling evidence of criminal activity. In a separate case on 7 September 2018, Demirtaş was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison for allegedly carrying out terrorist propaganda at a speech he gave in 2013. His sentence was upheld on appeal on 4 December 2018. The appeal is pending. PEN International calls for his conviction to be quashed.
While in prison Demirtaş wrote a collection of short stories entitled Seher (Dawn), which instantly became a best-seller and was translated into scores of languages, notably being awarded English PEN’s PEN Translates award. His latest book Devran was published in 2019. Demirtaş is an honorary member of German PEN and PEN Català.
On 17 March 2021, the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation filed a case before the Constitutional Court, demanding that HDP be dissolved and 687 party members – including Demirtaş – be banned from engaging in politics for five years. The European Union was amongst those condemning the move, stating that it ‘would violate the rights of millions of voters in Turkey’.
The Turkish authorities continue to forcibly replace elected HDP local officials in the southeast, thus depriving voters of their elected representatives in parliament and local government. PEN International has repeatedly called on the authorities to uphold political pluralism, which is essential to provide a real choice to voters.
Kurdistan Human Rights Association