Wife of jailed Kurdish leader hails release ruling, demands Turkish reforms


Ankara (Reuters) – The wife of detained Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas said on Thursday she expected Turkey to comply with a call from Europe’s top rights court to free him, but that the country’s overall legal system still needed to be fixed.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that Selahattin Demirtas, former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), must be freed immediately.

The court said Turkey’s justification for his detention longer than four years on terrorism-related offences was a pretext for limiting political debate – a ruling dismissed by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

“The issue is not only about Selahattin. The whole judicial system needs to be fixed,” Basak Demirtas told Reuters.

“I expect Selahattin to be released of course because Turkey is one of the signatory countries to the European Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, it is one of the founding members of the ECHR,” she said.

Turkey’s constitution now required it to abide by the court ruling, but more needed to be done, she added.

“We knew both Selahattin and his friends have been kept in jail unlawfully, unjustly. It made us happy that the ECHR made this official.”

Opposition members and rights groups have accused the government of pressing the judiciary to silence Erdogan’s opponents, particularly since an attempted coup in July 2016.

Erdogan and his ruling AK party have regularly denied such charges and said courts make independent decisions.

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 protests in 2014 that turned violent and led to 37 deaths. He denies any wrongdoing.

Ankara accuses the HDP of links to the Kurdistan Workers Party, 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 the 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.

Basak Demirtas said she persevered despite difficult times during her husband’s detention such as when he had heart problems, when she had an car accident on the way to see him and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People can stay strong as long as they fight for what they believe in,” she said.

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