ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan accused Europe’s top rights court of hypocrisy on Wednesday for calling on Turkey to release a jailed Kurdish politician, saying it was defending a “terrorist”, a stance rejected by his defenders as a cover to stifle democracy.
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Selahattin Demirtas, former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), must be freed immediately.
Turkey’s justification for his detention longer than four years on terrorism-related offences was a pretext for limiting pluralism and political debate, the ECHR said.
Lawyers for Demirtas hailed the decision and Western allies urged Ankara to heed it. But while such rulings are legally binding, Turkey has not implemented them in several past instances, including a previous ECHR ruling on Demirtas’ case.
Speaking to members of his Islamist-rooted AK Party, Erdogan said the ECHR was acting on behalf of a “terrorist” and repeated his view that Demirtas is responsible for the deaths of dozens in street protests that are at the core of the charges against him.
“The discussion concerns a person wearing a politician’s mask who is intimate with the PKK and has the blood of tens of people on his hands,” Erdogan said, adding that the ECHR could not pass judgment in the place of Turkish courts.
Erdogan said the court’s “hypocritical” ruling contradicted a 2009 verdict in which it found no rights violations in a case related to Spain’s closure of the Basque nationalist Batasuna party. “If the ECHR wants to be respected by Turkey, its needs to question its own contradictions,” he said.
Ankara accuses the HDP of links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984 and is deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and United States.
The HDP, the third-largest in Turkey’s parliament, denies links to terrorism yet has seen thousands of its officials and members arrested in recent years mainly on terrorism charges.
Demirtas faces a sentence of up to 142 years in prison if convicted of being the leader of a terrorist organisation over his speeches during the 2014 protests, which turned violent and led to 37 deaths. He denies any wrongdoing.
The HDP, chaired by Demirtas from 2014 to 2018, won 65 municipalities in elections last year. Since then, Ankara has stepped in to appoint caretaker mayors in 59 of them.
The ECHR said national laws were increasingly used to silence dissenting voices in Turkey – including various opposition figures and elected mayors – and Demirtas’ detention “seemed to follow a certain pattern”.
Mahsuni Karaman, one of Demirtas’ lawyers, told reporters the ruling was “a verdict on all operations against elected individuals (in Turkey), especially the HDP”.
(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Mark Heinrich)