This statement was originally published on pen-international.org on 20 December 2018.
The Turkish authorities must abide by the European Court of Human Rights' ruling and immediately release Selahattin Demirtaş, PEN International said today, as the opposition politician and writer remains jailed despite the Court ordering his release a month ago.
Former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş was arrested on 4 November 2016 on dubious terrorism charges. He has been held in pre-trial detention since then, running for the June 2018 presidential elections from his prison cell. He faces up to 142 years in prison if convicted.
On 20 November 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey's repeated extensions of Selahattin Demirtaş' pre-trial detention pursued the purpose of 'stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate'. For the first time in Turkey's history, the Court found Turkey in violation of Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights, in conjunction with Article 5(3) of the Convention (right to be brought promptly before a judge) and called on the Turkish authorities to 'take all necessary measures to put an end to [Selahattin Demirtaş'] pre-trial detention.'
'As a member state of the Council of Europe, Turkey must respect its international obligations and fully implement judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The Turkish authorities must immediately release Selahattin Demirtaş from his illegal pre-trial detention,' said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.
Following the Court's ruling, Selahattin Demirtaş' lawyers filed for his release. Under Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkey must abide by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Yet on 13 December 2018, the Ankara 19th High Criminal Court ordered the continuous detention of Selahattin Demirtaş on the grounds that the judgment was not final as it had not been pronounced by the Grand Chamber. The trial is set to resume on 23-25 January 2019.
In a separate case on 7 September 2018, Selahattin Demirtaş was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison for carrying out terrorist propaganda at a speech he gave in 2013. His sentence was upheld on appeal on 4 December 2018. PEN International is calling for his conviction to be quashed.
Selahattin Demirtaş has been held in pre-trial detention for over two years. He is accused of being a leading member of a terrorist organisation, of spreading terrorist propaganda, of praising crimes and criminals and of incitement of violence. The evidence against him consists largely of his political speeches and press statements and lacks any compelling evidence of criminal activity. Other HDP members of parliament face similar charges.
It is the first time the European Court of Human Rights finds Turkey in violation of Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In doing so, the Court ruled that Selahattin Demirtaş' continuous detention was politically motivated. It also found Turkey in violation of Article 5(3) (right to be brought promptly before a judge), Article 5 (4) (right to a speedy review of the lawfulness of detention) and Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
While in prison Selahattin Demirtaş wrote a collection of short stories entitled Seher (Dawn), which instantly became a best-seller and was translated into scores of languages. His new book is due to be published shortly.
German PEN, PEN Mexico and PEN Català have elected Selahattin Demirtaş as an honorary member of their Centre.
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