Written by Margaret Owen (International Trial Observer and Barrister)
On Wednesday 12th December 2018, Solicitor-Advocate Ali Has, Thomas Phillips of Liverpool University, and myself arrive in Ankara to attend the sixth hearing of the case against Selahattin Demirtas, former co-chair of Turkey’s HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party). Demirtas was arrested on 4th November 2016 together with co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ and seven other MPs. He has been in pre-trial detention at Edirne Prison since his arrest.
This trial is clearly of the utmost importance for the political future of Turkey, and is taking place amidst a backdrop of other significant developments that are creating extreme tensions and challenges, not just for the country but for the EU, and indeed the world. For example, last month the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Demirtas should be immediately released from his lengthy pre-trial detention, pending an appeal of his case. However President Erdogan declared that Turkey was not bound by this ruling, and claimed it was politically motivated.
The EU’s Foreign Affairs Representative, Federica Moghenni, declared that the ECHR does have jurisdiction in Turkey, since it is a Council of Europe member and therefore the ECHR is embedded in Turkey’s domestic law. The consensus from the EU Parliament, the Court and the Council of Europe is that Demirtas’ imprisonment was intended to keep him from competing in the Presidential election in which he was a candidate.
This case against Demirtas consists of 31 summary proceedings, merged together, each involving separate criminal charges. All of these files contain press statements and speeches that Demirtas made as a politician between 2016 and 2017 and which the Prosecutor alleges are evidence of terrorism and supporting the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party), a militant group.