Middle East

Turkey’s Erdogan says ECHR ruling on jailed politician supports terrorism


ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) ruling on the jailed former leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition, Selahattin Demirtas, amounted to support of terrorism.

On Tuesday, the ECHR urged Turkey to swiftly process Demirtas’s legal case, saying his pre-trial detention had gone on longer than could be justified.

Demirtas, former co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and one of Turkey’s best known politicians, was arrested in November 2016 on terrorism-related charges.

He was sentenced in September to more than four years in jail in relation to a speech he gave in 2013, but faces several more charges. Having spent nearly two years in prison awaiting trial for those charges, he has effectively already served out the prison term handed down by the Turkish court.

Speaking to local administrators in Ankara, Erdogan said Demirtas had the blood of 50 people on his hands and accused the ECHR of not being objective in its rulings against Turkey.

“No matter where you go in Europe today, while supporters of terrorist organizations roam free, the citizens who love our country are being suffocated,” Erdogan said.

“Are you following this ECHR? Do you have a ruling on these? No country or institution that praises Gulenists has the right to speak of democracy. This isn’t seeking justice, it’s simply terror-loving,” he said, referring to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric Ankara blames for a 2016 failed coup attempt.

Erdogan and his government accuse the HDP of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state and is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union. The HDP denies direct links.

While Demirtas has been convicted in one of his cases, he remains in prison facing several more terrorism-related charges, mostly for other speeches he gave, that could see him sentenced to up to 142 years in jail if found guilty.

Demirtas’ lawyer said on Tuesday that he had applied for the politician’s immediate release, saying “every second Mr Demirtas remains jailed is a restriction on freedom.”

Hours after the ECHR’s ruling, Erdogan dismissed the ruling as not binding and, without elaborating, said Turkey would take steps against the decision.

ECHR rulings are legally binding, but there have been many instances in which Turkey has not implemented them.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by David Dolan and Dominic Evans.

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