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Turkey’s judiciary used to squelch opposition Demirtas tells ECHR

The regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was using the judiciary to punish and squelch opposition political parties in Turkey the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was told on Wednesday.

Lawyers for the Selahattin Demirtas, the jailed former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), submitted that this suppression and punishment was key in their appeal to have the Grand Chamber rule that their client’s ongoing detention should come to an end.

“The subject of the hearing being held here today is the punishment and squelching of the opposition through the judiciary in Turkey.”

“The gist of this case is that Demirtas is being deprived of his liberty for political purposes and the [Turkish] judiciary serves that purpose. The politics pursued by Demirtas and his party is all-embracing, democratic, based on [human] rights and it powerfully supported a peaceful solution for the Kurdish problem.”

Demirtas’ appeal was submitted by lawyers Basak Cali, Kerem Altiparmak, Mahsuni Karaman, Benan Molu, Ramazan Demir and Aygul Demirtas.

Demirtas has been held in the Edirne Type F Prison since his arrest in November 2016 on terror-related charges.

Although the ECHR ordered the “immediate release” of Demirtas by urging Turkey to process his legal case swiftly in its November 20, 2018 ruling, a Turkish court rejected an appeal for his release saying that decision of the ECHR had not been finalized.

His legal team argued back in November that the ECHR’s “immediate release” ruling did not need to be finalized for it to be implemented.

The Grand Chamber Panel announced on March 19, 2018, that they accepted the requests of the Turkish government and Demirtas for the case to be referred to them so that they will reevaluate their November ruling on Demirtas’ ongoing detention.

Demirtas lawyers argued on Wednesday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had targeted the pro-Kurdish HDP and its former leader due to their political successes.

“Arbitrarily depriving someone of their freedom violates the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR),” lawyer Cali noted during the hearing.

Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in its 13 years’ rule as the pro-Kurdish HDP crossed the 10 percent threshold and secured seats at the parliament for the first time in the June 7, 2015, general elections.

While the AKP’s share of the vote dropped from 49.9 to 40.9 percent compared to the previous election, the HDP received 13 percent of votes and became the second-largest opposition party following secular CHP, which garnered 25 percent.

Referring to Demirtas’ arrest on November 4, 2016, Cali indicated on Wednesday that a Diyarbakir court put forward nine justifications for the warrant, all of which being related to the speeches he had made while he was the co-chair of the second biggest opposition party in Turkey.

“The decision of the Diyarbakir court involves no tangible, related or enough evidence to prove that Demirtas defended hate, intolerance, and violence [in his speeches],” the lawyer said on Wednesday.

The lawyer Molu also stated that the case against Demirtas included illegally tapped phone calls as evidence, and some party officials with whom Demirtas had communicated over the phone were shown as terrorists.

Reminding that the pro-Kurdish leader was in December 2018 sentenced to four years and eight months in jail on charges of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization,” the lawyers added that it was the heaviest possible sentence for the crime.

“You cannot see this heavy a sentence in all 88 cases of ‘terror propaganda’ for which you have ruled against the Turkish government. Even this sentence alone is enough to demonstrate the president’s influence on the judiciary and that it is not possible to mention ‘independent’ judiciary in Turkey,” Molu explained during Wednesday’s hearing.

Demirtas’ lawyers also mentioned that an Ankara court released the politician from pre-trial detention over terror charges on September 2, arguing that his defense had been completed.

“No neutral observer can explain why this decision [to release Demirtas] was given only 16 days before the ECHR Grand Chamber hearing,” the lawyers said.

Holding forth that oppression targeting the dissidents continues in Turkey despite the ruling to release Demirtas, the lawyers underlined that the politician’s case is one of many incidents where rights of the country’s opposition members and human rights advocates are being restricted.

Only a month ago, Erdogan’s governing AKP dismissed three democratically-elected Kurdish mayors of the southeastern Diyarbakir, Van, and Mardin provinces from their offices over their suspected links to a terrorist organization.

Following Wednesday’s hearing, lawyer Demir stated on Twitter that it could take six to nine months for the ECHR to give a ruling on the imprisoned pro-Kurdish leader’s case.

Speaking to Gozde Yel from T24 news portal, CHP MP Tanrikulu on Wednesday said that Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic also attended the hearing and shared her opinion on the current situation of the Turkish judiciary.

“She [Mijatovic] pointed out that they [members of the judiciary] are acting in a biased way in cases of [dissident] journalists, politicians, and academics. She also stated that there is no suitable environment for fair and truthful trials in Turkey,” the lawmaker elaborated.

Demirtas, as well as the ousted Kurdish mayors, are accused by the governing AKP of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed militant group that has fought for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey for over three decades.

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