Erdoğan accuses ECHR of ‘defending terrorist’ over Demirtaş ruling

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) of “double standards’’ and “defending a terrorist” on Wednesday over its ruling that Turkey must immediately release from prison a prominent Kurdish politician.

Jailed politician Selahattin Demirtaş is a “terrorist,” Sözcü newspaper cited Erdoğan as saying during an address to his party's parliamentary group, adding that the ECHR should know it is defending such a figure. 

The ECHR on Tuesday ruled that Turkey must immediately release Demirtaş, who is charged with terrorism-related offences, and that the Kurdish politician’s rights were violated under five different categories, including freedom of expression and liberty.

Domestic legal avenues had not yet been exhausted by Demirtaş and his lawyers, Erdoğan said, calling the ECHR ruling an “uncommon practice.”

Moreover, the ECHR cannot rule in a way that bypasses the Turkish judiciary and the Turkish courts would “only” evaluate ECHR decisions, he added.

The Turkish constitution considers international treaties on fundamental rights and freedoms to have precedence over local laws in case of contradiction between the two, and as such, ECHR rulings are binding for Turkey.

The ECHR employed “double standards” Erdoğan said, adding that the steps were “politically motivated.” 

Erdoğan went to say that Demirtaş was behind the deaths of 53 people during violent protests five years ago, referring to the 2014 protests against an Islamic State (ISIS) siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

Dozens of people, mostly HDP members, were killed during the multi-province protests over Turkey’s inaction over the siege.

Demirtaş has been jailed since Nov. 2016 on a string of terror charges, which if combined, could exceed 140 years in prison sentences. 

In 2018, the ECHR ruled that Demirtaş’s confinement without new evidence would amount to continued violations of Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Turkey dismissed the ruling and responded with renewing efforts to convict him.

The Turkish president has filed three separate applications with the ECHR.

The first was in 1999, over a jail sentence and penalty he received for reading a nationalist poem, followed by an application in 2002 over a refusal for the deletion of his criminal record and lastly, in the same year, over a decision by the Turkish Higher Court (YSK) denying his candidacy as lawmaker.