Turkey Flouts European Court Judgments: Council of Europe Committee Should Trigger Infringement Proceedings

(Istanbul, June 4, 2021) – The Council of Europe should insist that Turkey comply immediately with judgments from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), or face infringement proceedings, a group of leading nongovernmental organizations working on human rights in Turkey said today.

An upcoming Council of Europe Committee of Ministers meeting on June 7-9, 2021, will review the Turkish government’s failure to implement two leading ECtHR judgments that ordered the immediate release of the human rights defender Osman Kavala and the Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş. Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project urged the committee to use all available measures to require Turkey to rectify its flagrant non-compliance with its obligations, the court judgments, and the committee’s decisions on this matter.

“The Committee of Ministers should be using every means it has to push Turkey to implement the Kavala and Demirtaş judgments,” said Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “That means that the committee should be prepared to trigger infringement proceedings against Turkey if it persists with its defiance of the European Court’s binding judgment in favor of Kavala, and to call for the immediate release of Demirtaş with a commitment to escalate measures if it does not happen.”

The three groups repeated their March 2021 call for the committee to commence infringement proceedings against Turkey for flouting its decisions requesting Kavala’s release and urged the committee to issue a second decision for Demirtaş’s immediate release. The committee should also make clear that if Demirtaş is not released, it will take further action at its September session.

The ECtHR ruled on December 10, 2019, that by holding Kavala in pretrial detention since November 2017 and prosecuting him on the basis of his human rights activities, the Turkish authorities had “pursued an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him as a human rights defender.”

Similarly, the ECtHR ruled on December 22, 2020, that by holding Demirtaş in pretrial detention since November 2016 and prosecuting him for his activities and speeches protected under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Turkish authorities had pursued an ulterior purpose of preventing him from carrying out his political activities, depriving voters of their elected representative, and “stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate: the very core of the concept of a democratic society.”

In both cases, the Court found that by using detention for political ends, Turkey had violated the right to liberty and other rights, and had misused the discretion given to governments to impose limitations on rights for illegitimate purposes (articles 5 and 18 of the ECHR respectively). The Court took the rare step of ordering their immediate release.

Despite the fact that the landmark judgments are legally binding, the Turkish authorities have snubbed the Strasbourg court and ignored the Committee of Ministers’ decisions calling for the men’s release.

“Turkish prosecutors and judges have sought to circumvent the authority of the European Court by adopting the tactic of opening new criminal proceedings against Kavala and Demirtaş based on the reclassification of the same facts,” said Helen Duffy of the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project “This cynical non-compliance with the court’s judgments requires a robust response from the Committee of Ministers.”

On May 21 when the retrial of Kavala for his alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests opened, Turkish authorities merged that case with another concerning his alleged involvement in the 2016 coup attempt and espionage. The Istanbul 30th Assize Court hearing the case extended his detention. The next hearing against Kavala is scheduled for August 6.

In Demirtaş’s case, Ankara 22nd Assize Court on April 19 merged an existing case against him with a new case before it despite the fact that it involved the same or similar facts, which the European Court had held consisted of peaceful political speeches and activities protected under the ECHR. In the new case, the facts used as the evidence have been reclassified under different charges.

The indictment now charges Demirtaş and 107 co-defendants with crimes that include attempting to undermine the unity and territorial integrity of the state, murder, and robbery, all on the basis of tweets and political speeches they made in the period before deadly protests that took place in southeast Turkey from October 6-8, 2014. Demirtaş’s co-defendants include current and former members of parliament from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The first hearing of the merged cases against Demirtaş took place on April 26. The next hearing is scheduled for June 14.

Read the full press release here: Turkey Flouts European Court Judgments_press release_2021_ENG

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