The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday urged Turkey to swiftly process the legal case of the ex-head of the pro-Kurdish party, saying his pre-trial detention had gone on longer than could be justified. Turkey's president responded by claiming his country was not bound by the court's rulings.
Selahattin Demirtaş, the 45-year-old former co-chairman of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), was sentenced in September to more than four years in jail on terrorism charges related to a speech he gave in 2013. Having already spent nearly two years in prison awaiting trial for those alleged offences, he had effectively already served out the prison term handed down by the Turkish court.
"The Court finds several violations of the Convention and orders the termination of the pre-trial detention of opposition politician Selahattin Demirtaş… The Court, therefore, held, unanimously, that the respondent State [Turkey] was to take all necessary measures to put an end to the applicant’s pre-trial detention," the Strasbourg-based ECHR said in a statement.
The court said that Demirtaş was not promptly brought before a judge, and that his right to free elections had been violated.
"The Court found that it had been established beyond reasonable doubt that the extensions of Mr Demirtas’s detention, especially during two crucial campaigns, namely the referendum and the presidential election, had pursued the predominant ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate, which was at the very core of the concept of a democratic society," the press release said.
The ECHR also criticised Turkey for keeping Demirtas detained during two elections: a constitutional referendum in 2017 and this year's presidential ballot.
The court, which awarded Demirtaş 10,000 euros ($11,430) in damages and a further 15,000 euros in costs, ruled against a number of his other complaints and accepted that he had been arrested and detained on "reasonable suspicion" of having committed a criminal offence.
Asked to comment on the European court's ruling, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: "We are not bound by the (European court's) decisions."
He added: "We'll make our counter-move and finish it off." He did not elaborate.
ECHR rulings are legally binding, but there have been many instances in which Turkey has not implemented them.