Selahattin Demirtaş

Profile

Selahattin Demirtaş is a Kurdish politician, author and former human rights lawyer who has been imprisoned since 2016. He is currently held in Edirne F-Type Prison in western Turkey more than 1500 kilometres away from his family.

Demirtaş served as a member of parliament (MP) in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly from 2007- 2018 for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish rights opposition party for which he also served as co-chair. He was also a candidate for president in the 10 August 2014 and 24 June 2018 elections, in which he received 9.76% and 8.32% of the votes respectively, the second time from his jail cell.

Before his arrest and detention, Demirtaş lived with his wife Başak, their two daughters and his family in Diyarbakır, in the southeast of Turkey. Since he was first detained, they have visited him in prison almost every week by travelling more than 15 hours for a one-hour visit.

Status

  • Demirtaş is currently held in pre-trial detention1The Committee of Ministers in its 9-11 March 2021 meeting stated that “while taking note of the authorities’ submissions that the applicant’s current detention falls outside the scope of the Grand Chamber judgment in which the Court examined the applicant’s detention between 4 November 2016 and 7 December 2018 and also that the events and charges for his current detention differ from those concerning his initial detention, considered that these arguments have been already examined and rejected by the Court;” http://hudoc.exec.coe.int/ENG?i=CM/Del/Dec(2021)1398/H46-40E in the scope of the main ongoing case against him and convicted for terrorist propaganda in another case, serving a 4 years 8 months prison sentence.2The Committee of Ministers in its meeting on 9-11 March 2021 underlined that “the obligation of restitutio in integrum calls for the negative consequences of the violation to be eliminated without delay, including as regards the two sets of proceedings pending before the Ankara Assize Court (concerning the thirty-four investigation reports and the events of 6-8 October 2014) and the appeal proceedings pending before the İstanbul Assize Court (against the applicant’s conviction for disseminating propaganda in favour of a terrorist organisation during a meeting held in March 2013);” http://hudoc.exec.coe.int/ENG?i=CM/Del/Dec(2021)1398/H46-40E Despite the landmark judgment issued by the European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber on 22 December 2020, requiring his immediate release and the Committee of Ministers’ decision on 11 March 2021; Selahattin Demirtaş remains in prison, and the Turkish authorities continue to defy the Court’s judgment by failing to comply with it, and to ensure restitutio in integrum that all negative consequences of the violation be eliminated by Turkey without delay including in relation to the proceedings which he was convicted for terrorist propaganda.

The case of Selahattin Demirtaş

The case concerns the arrest, pre-trial detention, conviction and criminal proceedings against Selahattin Demirtaş.

In October 2014, violent protests took place in 36 provinces in eastern Turkey (“6-8 October events” or “Kobane protests”), followed by further violence in 2015 in the wake of the breakdown of negotiations aimed at resolving the “solution process”, the process initiated in 2012-13 for finding a peaceful solution to the conflict. According to the figures mentioned in the Constitutional Court’s judgment of 21 December 2017 (no. 2016/25189) on an individual application by Selahattin Demirtaş, the violence on 6 and 8 October 2014 caused the death of fifty people and injured a further 772, including 331 members of the security forces. No fewer than 1,881 vehicles and 2,558 buildings, including hospitals and schools, suffered damage. In the course of the subsequent criminal investigations by the competent prosecuting authorities, 4,291 people were arrested and 1,105 of them were placed in pre-trial detention (see paragraph 30 of the Constitutional Court’s judgment). According to the public prosecutors, the acts of violence had been prompted by calls posted on the HDP Twitter account.3On 6 October 2014 the following three tweets were posted on the official HDP Twitter account, @HDPgenelmerkezi: – “Urgent call to our people! Urgent call to our people from the HDP central executive board, currently in session! The situation in Kobani is extremely dangerous. We urge our people to join and support those protesting in the streets against Daesh attacks and the AKP [Justice and Development Party] government’s embargo over Kobani.” (“Halklarımıza acil çağrı! Şuanda toplantı halinde olan HDP MYK’dan halklarımıza acil çağrı! Kobane’de duruş son derece kritiktir. IŞİD saldırılarını ve AKP iktidarının Kobané’ye ambargo tutumunu protesto etmek üzere halklarımızı sokağa çıkmaya ve sokağa çıkmış olanlara destek vermeye çağırıyoruz.”) – “We call upon all our people, from 7 to 70, to [go out into] the streets, to [occupy] the streets and to take action against the attempted massacre in Kobani.” (“Kobané’de yaşanan katliam girişimine karşı 7 den 70 e bütün halklarımızı sokağa, alan tutmaya ve harekete geçmeye çağırıyoruz.”) – “From now on, everywhere is Kobani. We call for permanent resistance until the end of the siege and brutal aggression in Kobani.” (“Bundan böyle her yer Kobane’dir. Kobane’deki kuşatma ve vahşi saldırganlık son bulana kadar süresiz direnişe çağırıyoruz.”)

On 7 June 2015, Turkey held a general election in which the HDP obtained 13.2% of the vote and were accordingly entitled to 80 seats in Parliament, and the ruling AKP party lost its parliamentary majority. The debate over parliamentary immunity began shortly after this election and continued after the AKP regained its parliamentary majority in a snap election on 1 November 2015 and in which the HDP obtained 59 seats.4 https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/171109-Demirtas-submissions-Nov-17.pdf Selahattin Demirtaş, who was co-chair of the HDP, was re-elected as a member of the National Assembly in November 2015 for a four-year term.

In various speeches in 2015 and 2016 President Erdoğan vowed that HDP members of parliament should “pay the price” for recent deadly events for which he held them responsible. While serving parliamentarians usually enjoy a high level of immunity from prosecution for political activities undertaken while in office, the background to the arrest and detention of the HDP deputies lies in a controversial temporary constitutional amendment and parliamentary vote in May 2016 which was most clearly directed against the political party and lifted their parliamentary immunity.

On 20 May 2016, following a constitutional amendment on the subject of parliamentary immunity, 154 members of parliament (including 55 from the HDP) had their immunity lifted. Fifteen opposition members of parliament (including 14 from the HDP) were placed in pre-trial detention. Selahattin Demirtaş was arrested in November 2016 on suspicion of leading an illegal organisation and making statements encouraging terrorism. He has been imprisoned since then. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, which advises on constitutional matters, issued an October 2016 opinion strongly criticising the measure and urging the full restoration of the deputies’ parliamentary inviolability. Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) has analysed the evidence in 11 of the indictments, the lifting of the immunity as part of a crackdown against the HDP in detail. In November 2017, ARTICLE 19 and HRW submitted a third party intervention to the case before the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR” or “Court” or “European Court”).

Demirtaş was placed in pre-trial detention on 4 November 2016 along with several HDP MPs and has been tried before Ankara 19th Assize Court on several counts of terrorism-related offences, including forming or leading an armed terrorist organisation, disseminating terrorist propaganda and incitement to public hatred and hostility. The charges against him are based on the political speeches he made in his capacity as an HDP MP and co-chair on the Kurdish issue and his identification of the Government’s problematic policies in relation to Kurds.

On 20 December 2020, the ECtHR Grand Chamber issued a landmark judgment calling for Demirtaş’s immediate release, finding that Turkey had violated rights under Articles 5.1 and 5.3 (right to liberty), Article 10 (right to freedom of expression), Article 3 Protocol 1 (the right to free and fair elections), and Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) taken together with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”). The Court requested the Government to “take all necessary measures to secure the immediate release of” Demirtaş and stated that the continuation of his pre-trial detention would entail a prolongation of the violations, as well as breaching the obligation on Turkey to abide by the European Court’s judgment in accordance with Article 46(1) of the Convention (paragraph 442). In our joint Rule 9.2 submission with Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation for Human Rights, and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project we highlighted the key findings of violations relevant to this submission on individual measures in detail.

In a complicated sequence of events, described below, the Turkish government did not release Demirtaş from detention as the European Court’s ruling required. Instead, in an effort to circumvent the ECtHR judgments, the authorities first expedited a conviction against him for a 2013 speech he had given and detained him again on new charges and later detained him once more on another new indictment, which is based on the same set of facts and incidents that the Grand Chamber already found to constitute insufficient grounds for his detention.

Charges

First set of proceedings (Trial A):

Selahattin Demirtaş was first placed in detention on 4 November 2016 within the scope of an investigation concerning membership of an armed terrorist organisation (Article 314 (1) of the Criminal Code) and public incitement to commit an offence (Article 214 (1) of the Criminal Code). On 11 January 2017, the public prosecutor filed a bill of indictment with the Diyarbakır Assize Court in respect of Demirtaş, running to 501 pages. Demirtaş was charged with the following offences:

  • Article 314(1) of the Criminal Code “forming or leading an armed terrorist organisation”
  • Article 7(2) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act “disseminating propaganda in favour of a terrorist organisation” (fifteen counts)
  • Article 214(1) of the Criminal Code “public incitement to commit an offence”
  • Article 215(1) of the Criminal Code “praising crime and criminals” (four counts)
  • Article 216(1) of the Criminal Code “public incitement to hatred and hostility”
  • Article 217(1) of the Criminal Code “incitement to disobey the law”
  • Article 28(1) of the Meetings and Demonstrations Act (Law no. 2911) “organising and participating in unlawful meetings and demonstrations” (three counts)
  • Article  32(1) of Law no. 2911 “not complying with orders by the security forces for the dispersal of an unlawful demonstration”

The public prosecutor sought a sentence of between 43 and 142-years’ imprisonment for Demirtaş. The case was heard before the Ankara 19th Assize Court from 2017 until 25 May 2021 when the court gave a decision of joinder to the effect that case files before the Ankara 19th and 22nd Assize Courts (the third set of proceedings) are now being heard by the Ankara 22nd Assize Court jointly. As a result, the case before the Ankara 19th Assize Court was closed.

Second set of proceedings (Trial B):

On 16 August 2016, the Istanbul public prosecutor’s office opened a criminal investigation against Demirtaş, who was accused of disseminating propaganda in favour of a terrorist organisation, on account of a speech he had given at a rally in Istanbul on 17 March 2013:

  • Article 7(2) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act “disseminating propaganda in favour of a terrorist organisation”

On 7 September 2018, Demirtaş was given a 4-year 8-month prison sentence by the Istanbul 26th Assize Court on this case, which was upheld by the Regional Court of Appeal on 4 December 2018. Two years after the judgment of the Regional Court of Appeal, the Court of Cassation examined the conviction on 26 April 2021 and upheld the 4-year 8-month prison sentence, meaning that his conviction became final on that date.

The Turkish Government has been continuously using this case as the basis for its refusal to release Mr. Demirtaş, when the pressure increases from the ECtHR or the CM.5See the joint Rule 9.2 submission: http://hudoc.exec.coe.int/ENG?i=DH-DD(2021)759E

Third set of proceedings (Trial C):

On 30 December 2020, a bill of indictment concerning 108 people, including Demirtaş, was filed by the Ankara public prosecutor purportedly concerning the events of 6-8 October 2014. The 3,530-page indictment was approved by the Ankara 22nd Assize Court on 7 January 2021. In the indictment, Demirtaş was charged with 30 offences which include:

  • Article 302 of the Criminal Code “undermining the unity and territorial integrity of the State”
  • Article 82 of the Criminal Code “homicide” (37 times)
  • Article 82, Article 35(1) of the Criminal Code “attempted murder” (31 times)
  • Article 149 of the Criminal Code “aggravated robbery” (24 times)
  • Article 151(1) of the Criminal Code “damage to property” (1,750 times)
  • Article 152(1)(a) of the Criminal Code “damage to property which belongs to a public institution or corporation, or which is designated for use for public service or in a place reserved for the benefit of the public” (1,060 times)

In the indictment Demirtaş was charged with being responsible for all offences allegedly committed during the series of protests that took place from 6-8 October 2014 in different cities across Turkey, on the basis that through his political statements he had organised those protests. Based on this, the prosecutor charged Demirtaş with any offence allegedly committed in the course of events of 6 to 8 October 2014, arguing that  Demirtaş was a leading member of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party)/KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union) and should be held responsible for any offence committed by the organisation.

The case (file no. 2021/6), which consists of 324 folders of evidence and annexes and names 2,676 complainants and victims as well as 37 persons who had been allegedly killed during the events of 6-8 October 2014, is ongoing before the Ankara 22nd Assize Court.

Timeline

Recommendations to the Government of Turkey

ARTICLE 19 calls for immediate release and acquittal of Selahattin Demirtaş in accordance with the European Court of Human Rights judgment and for the halting of all criminal proceedings initiated against him following the constitutional amendment lifting his parliamentary immunity. We call on the Turkish authorities to free the many other writers, journalists, human rights defenders and opposition politicians jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression. 

Recommendations to the Committee of Ministers

We call on the Committee of Ministers to insist on the immediate release of Selahattin Demirtaş and to underline that the Grand Chamber judgment clearly applies to Demirtaş’s ongoing pre-trial detention; and in the event that Selahattin Demirtaş remains in detention at the time of the 1411DH 14-16 September 2021 meeting, to trigger infringement proceedings against Turkey under Article 46(4) of the Convention.

Acknowledgements

The content of this case file was prepared with the information that were retrieved from the judgments of the Second Section of the ECtHR and the Grand Chamber, statements and reports of the Human Rights Watch, joint third party interventions of ARTICLE 19 and HRW, joint Rule 9.2 submissions of ARTICLE 19, HRW, ICJ, FIDH and TLSP, and the information note that was prepared for ARTICLE 19 by the defence lawyers.

Key Documents

Relevant reports / articles

11.08.2021 50 min read

Turkey: ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch submit intervention to the European Court of Human Rights regarding detained MPs

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11.08.2021 50 min read

Turkey: Expert opinion on charges against Selahattin Demirtaş

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Turkey: Free Politician after European Court Ruling
11.08.2021 50 min read

Turkey: Free Politician after European Court Ruling

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Turkey: Open letter to the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission ahead of their visit to Turkey
11.08.2021 50 min read

Turkey: Open letter to the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission ahead of their visit to Turkey

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Turkey: Opposition Politicians Detained for 4 Years
11.08.2021 50 min read

Turkey: Opposition Politicians Detained for 4 Years

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11.08.2021 50 min read

Turkey: Respect ECtHR ruling and end politically motivated trials against Demirtaş

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11.08.2021 50 min read

Turkey: Expert opinion on charges against Selahattin Demirtaş

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Disclaimer

The content of this case file is based on an unofficial translation of the materials from Turkish. We take no responsibility for errors in the analysis above from any inaccuracies or errors in the translation.

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