11 January 2021 by

Selahattin Demirtaş delivering a speech in 2016. {Photograph}: Ozan Köse/AFP/Getty Pictures. Supply: The Guardian

On 22 December 2020, the European Courtroom of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) printed a Grand Chamber determination towards Turkey, requiring the speedy launch of the pro-Kurdish opposition chief Selahattin Demirtaş from pre-trial detention (Selahattin Demirtaş v Turkey, Application no. 14305/17). The ECtHR mentioned that Mr Demirtaş’ detention went towards “the very core of the idea of a democratic society” and was in breach of Articles 5, 10, 18 and Article three of Protocol 1 of the European Conference on Human Rights (the “Conference”).

The choice is especially important given Mr Demirtaş’ excessive profile standing and the quite a few circumstances towards Turkey that the ECtHR is now listening to, following the tried coup in July 2016 and the federal government’s subsequent crackdown on civil society. Shortly after publication of the judgment, the ECtHR web site was topic to a cyber-attack and rendered quickly inaccessible. A bunch of pro-Turkish hackers claimed duty for the assault by way of a Twitter submit.


In Could 2016 the Turkish Grand Nationwide Meeting handed an modification to the Structure to carry parliamentary immunity in all situations the place prior requests had been made to carry it. The explanatory memorandum to the modification indicated that it was directed at “sure members of parliament” who had “made speeches voicing ethical assist for terrorism” and who have been “abusing their [parliamentary] immunity”.

Mr Demirtaş was one of many members of parliament affected. He was initially taken into pre-trial detention in November 2016 on allegations of membership of an armed organisation (an offence beneath Article 314 of the Turkish Felony Code) and of public incitement to commit an offence (prohibited beneath Article 214 of the Felony Code). On the time, Mr Demirtaş was the co-chair of the left-wing, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Occasion (“HDP”). The allegations towards him have been related with road demonstrations in October 2014. The demonstrations had protested the shortage of presidency motion following Islamic State’s assault on the Kurdish city of Kobani, situated over the border in Syria. The demonstrations had turned violent. The Turkish prosecutor based mostly its allegations towards Mr Demirtaş on sure tweets issued from the HDP Twitter account in October 2014, in addition to public speeches by Mr Demirtaş which known as for folks to attend the demonstrations.

The ECtHR Grand Chamber determination

Protesters throughout an illustration in Ankara in October 2014 towards assaults launched by Islamic State insurgents concentrating on the Syrian metropolis of Kobane. {Photograph}: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty. Supply: The Guardian

The ECtHR determination on 22 December 2020 was issued by a panel of 17 judges of the Grand Chamber, following referral from the decrease Chamber. The Grand Chamber determined that Mr Demirtaş’ detention was in breach of the next articles of the “Conference”:

  1. Article 10 (freedom of expression): lack of foreseeability

Governments might solely intrude with a person’s proper to freedom of expression if the interference is (a) prescribed by regulation, (b) in pursuit of a reliable purpose, and (c) essential in a democratic society. One ingredient of the requirement to be ‘prescribed by regulation’ is for the interference to be sufficiently foreseeable. Because of this folks ought to be capable of foresee to an affordable diploma the results which their actions might entail. 

The ECtHR famous that Turkish courts had in different circumstances imposed legal responsibility for membership of an armed organisation on the idea of a really broad vary of acts, and sometimes on very weak proof. It mentioned that, in deciding to detain Mr Demirtaş’, the Turkish courts had failed to think about whether or not his parliamentary immunity had the truth is been successfully lifted. The ECtHR additionally mentioned the Turkish courts had did not keep in mind their very own case regulation relating to what proof is required to show “membership of an armed organisation”. For these causes, the ECtHR held that the Article 314 of the Turkish Felony Code doesn’t afford ample safety towards arbitrary interference by the nationwide authorities. The interference with Mr Demirtaş’ freedom of expression was not sufficiently foreseeable in order to be adequately ‘prescribed by regulation’.

  1. Article 5 (liberty and safety of individual): no affordable suspicion for detention

The ECtHR discovered that neither the HDP’s tweets, nor Mr Demirtaş’ speeches, may very well be construed both as a name to violence or as a direct reason behind the violence which passed off. It held that there was no clear hyperlink between the statements Mr Demirtaş made and the offences for which he was detained: subsequently he had been detained with out affordable suspicion in breach of Article 5.

  1. Article three of Protocol 1 (proper to free elections)

The ECtHR held that the impact of Mr Demirtaş’ detention was to forestall him from exercising his proper to be elected and to take a seat within the Nationwide Meeting.

  1. Article 18 (rights to not be restricted for an ulterior function)

The ECtHR discovered that Mr Demirtaş’ detention, which continued throughout two referendum campaigns and a presidential election, pursued the ulterior function of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate. 


The Grand Chamber’s determination is critical not solely due to Mr Demirtaş’ prominence as an opposition chief. In accordance with Amnesty International, for the reason that tried coup 2016, Turkey has detained greater than 10,000 folks, together with members of opposition events. The EtCHR has already made findings towards Turkey in a lot of circumstances, together with for breaches of Article 5 of the Conference for the pre-trial detention, with out affordable suspicion, of journalists (Mehmet Hasan Altan v. Turkey (application no. 13237/17); Şahin Alpay v. Turkey (application no. 16538/17)), judges (Alparslan Altan v. Turkey (application no. 12778/17); Baş v. Turkey (application no. 66448/17)) and a businessman concerned in numerous human rights NGOs (Kavala v. Turkey (application no. 28749/18)). 

The Demirtaş’ judgment will add to the rising physique of precedents on which future candidates might search to rely. As Ahval News notes, the judgment is of specific authorized significance for its discovering that Article 314 of the Felony Code doesn’t present ample foreseeability for the needs of Conference Articles 10 and 5. In recent times, Turkey has more and more relied on Article 314 as the idea for detaining opposition activists and people it perceives as antagonistic to the federal government’s pursuits. 

The extent to which Turkey will adjust to the ECtHR’s ruling stays to be seen.

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