Catalan press story translated and comment by Diarmuid Breatnach
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Turkey for keeping a Kurdish elected Deputy in preventive detention (i.e custody without bail — Translator) without “sufficient” reasons. The seven magistrates of Strasbourg who signed the judgment made public on Tuesday urged the Turkish state to release Selahattin Demirtas, who when he was arrested was co-president of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
The court also considers that the inability of the former leader to participate in parliamentary activity despite being an elected Deputy constituted an “unjustified” interference with freedom of expression and the right to be elected and occupy a seat in Parliament. The left party HDP reacted by calling on the local courts of the country to implement the decision “immediately” and not only get Demirtas out of prison but also the rest of the Deputies in jail.
In a statement, the HDP recalls that Demirtas has been a “hostage” for two years and demands that he be released “without delay.” The party sees the decision as a “precedent” for all those elected and highlights the “determination” of those who “do not abandon the struggle for democracy and peace” in their country.
VIOLATION OF THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The ECHR claims that several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated, such as the right of all detainees to be taken “without delay” before a judge and to be judged within a “reasonable” period or be released during the proceedings (article 5.3) and the right to free elections (Additional Protocol, article 3).
“The Court concludes that the extension of the period of pretrial detention has been established beyond a reasonable doubt, especially during two crucial campaigns, the referendum and the presidential elections, with the ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting the freedom of a political debate”, the text sets out.
Overall, Strasbourg not only directs the Turkish state to release him but also to compensate Demirtas with 10,000 euros for non-financial damages, in addition to the 250,000 requested by the politician. “The court notes that the violation of the agreement has unquestionably caused substantial damage to the plaintiff,” said the ruling. In addition, it ordered the Turkish State to pay 15,000 euro in legal expenses.
REACTIONS TO THE JUDGEMENT
Amnesty International, an NGO for human rights where Demirtas, who is a lawyer, also collaborated, has released a communiqué in which he recalls that Turkey is one of the 49 member states of the Council of Europe and that, therefore, the decision of the ECHR It is “binding”.
The Director of Research and Strategy of AI forTurkey, Andrew Gardner, assures that the judgement with regard to the opposition leader “exposes” the Turkish judicial system and points out that “it should have great implications” in the country presided over by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Civil society activists remain on a regular basis for long periods in pretrial detention under fabricated accusations,” he laments, highlighting the “influence” of the policy in Turkish courts. According to Gardner, in Ankara “peaceful” expressions of political dissidents are “punished” through the courts.
For his part, the ERC MEP Jordi Solé sees in the ruling a “precedent” for states that “abuse” preventive detention and “violate” political rights. In this regard, the parliamentarian believes that “it will have to be taken into account in the case of the Catalan independence leaders.”
“European justice does not allow prison to be abused as an instrument to restrict freedom and political pluralism or to violate the procedural, civil and political rights of citizens, and the Spanish state should take note,” he said in a statement.
Though certainly the judgement is to be welcomed by all supporters of human and civil rights, observers and commentators would do well to exercise more caution with regard to the impact of this judgement. Certainly other political parties can quote it with regard to elected deputies detained while awaiting trial and may indeed succeed in their endeavour. But the judgement specifically mentioned an elected Deputy and electoral campaigns. Therefore there are a great number of political prisoners to whom this judgement does not necessarily apply and, in the Catalan case, one would be concerned for example about the cases of the jailed leaders of the grass-roots organisations Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart.
In addition, the judgement did not say how long would be a “justified” period to keep a prisoner in jail before bringing him to trial. This prisoner, according to his party the HDP, was kept in prison for two years but it does not automatically follow that a period of that length will always be considered “unreasonable”. Should it be so there are a great many prisoners who have waited that long for a sentence while in custody in Europe, including in Ireland and the Basque Country.
It is of course a welcome precedent of a kind, as the Catalan MEP said but whether it will have the effect he believes is something else.
What is particularly interesting in this case is the speed (for the ECHR) with which the case reached the Strasbourg Court for judgement and in which judgement was given, if indeed it all took place within a period of two years, since many cases have taken much longer. For example, Martxelo Otxamendi, Director of the Basque-language newspaper Egunkaria wrongfully banned by the Spanish State, who was tortured in 2003 during the five-day incomunicado period routinely applied to those accused of anything to do with “terrorism” (sic), took five years to exhaust his options in the courts of the Spanish State (usually a requirement before presenting the case in Strasbourg) but it took another four years before judgement was finally delivered by the ECHR in 2012 (and even then the Spanish State was only penalised for failure to investigate the allegation of torture, since the ECHR judged that the torture itself could not be proven).