Case between Ankara and Demirtas drags on as ECHR refers it to its Grand Chamber at request of both parties

At the request of both parties, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has referred the case between the Turkish government and the jailed pro-Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas to the Grand Chamber.

This comes after the ECHR ruled in favor of a revision of decision demanded by the Turkish government and Demirtas, on the case of the right infringements alleged by the latter, on Monday.

Demirtas, THE former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was arrested in November 2016, on terrorism-related charges. He has been in prison since then. The prosecution seeks a sentence of 147 years in prison for him.

The jailed former HDP leader had run as a candidate during the 2018 presidential elections from his prison cell. He had not been released despite the calls for such by other opposition candidates for a fair race.

Demirtas applied to the European court to review his arrest and pre-trial detention. The continental court ruled in November his right to seek a speedy review of lawfulness was infringed. The court ruled that the Turkish government was “to take all necessary measures to put an end to the applicant’s pretrial detention.”

Following the decision, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the ECHR ruling: “We will make our move and deal with it.”

Following Erdogan’s response, an appeals court viewing another case of Demirtas upheld his sentence on December 4, rendering the European Court’s decision on the pre-trial detention outdated.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry appealed the decision, saying the ruling is contradictory to the court’s previous rulings, and would set a precedent of such rulings on complicated cases.

The Turkish government then demanded the case’s referral to the Grand Chamber to be reviewed.

Demirtas’ lawyers also filed an application to the ECHR demanding the case’s referral to the Grand Chamber.

Following the applications of both parties, ECHR ruled to refer the case Selahattin Demirtas v. Turkey to its Grand Chamber.

“It is certainly binding. If the Grand Chamber rules there is a violation regarding Demirtas’ imprisonment, they are obliged to release him,” critical news portal Bianet quoted Demirtas’ lawyer Mahsuni Karaman as saying.

The press release on the ruling of ECHR gave a three-page long review on the case, which comprises of a summary of events that lead to the current state of affairs.

Epitomizing the background of the case, the press release provides an account of the peace process initiated in late 2012.

From “peace talks” to “crackdown”

The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) sought a policy to end the armed conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which fought an armed insurgency in southeastern Turkey for decades. Dubbed as “the solution process,” the move prompted a ceasefire with PKK.

In October 2014, during the ceasefire, the jihadist militant group Islamic State had besieged the northern Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Kobani.

Erdogan’s comments on the issue, along with the Turkish government’s somewhat dubious stance regarding ISIS, resulted in demonstrations in Turkey’s southeast which turned violent afterwards. The violence claimed the lives of 46 while 682 others were wounded, according to government figures.

Erdogan accused Demirtas of provoking the demonstrations and laid the blame of the death toll on his discourse.

During the general election season in 2015, Demirtas had stirred the base of HDP with his staunch criticism against the increasing authoritarian drive of Erdogan.

The ruling AKP lost its parliamentary majority after the June 2015 elections, while HDP, for the first time in its history past the 10% threshold for representation by obtaining 13% of the votes.

Trying to claim the political ground lost to HDP, Erdogan and his cronies adopted a nationalist discourse, announcing the “solution process” is in “the fridge,” implicating a suspension of the ceasefire.

During the coalition talks led by the then Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, two police officers were killed in their house in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa’s Ceylanpinar district.

The government accuse the PKK of the attack, and the two-year long ceasefire came to an end subsequently.

Ankara initiated a months long military campaign in the southeastern Kurdish-majority cities of Turkey, aimed at ousting the PKK members who gained ground in the cities during the peace talks.

After the failure of coalition talks, general elections were held again in November. The AKP reclaimed its parliamentary majority. This was a result of nationalist fervor prompted by the revived armed conflict with PKK according to some analysts.

HDP lost more than 20% of its votes, partly due to government’s discourse equating the party with the outlawed PKK.

In May 2016, parliament lifted the immunity of 55 HDP member lawmakers.

Following parliament’s decision, the failed military coup of July 2016 which claimed the lives of 250 people, gave the government the pretext to crack down on what it deemed as “terrorist organizations.”

Fourteen HDP MPs were detained on various dates in the aftermath, including the co-chair Selahattin Demirtas.

Ankara court rejects request for Demirtas’ release


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