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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Selahattin Demirtaş

 

Detained Since: November 4, 2016.

Charges: Carrying out “terrorist propaganda.”

Sentence: Four years and eight months for "carrying out terrorist propaganda" (September 7, 2018). 

Biography: Selahattin Demirtaș is a Kurdish politician from Turkey. He began his career as a lawyer with Turkey's Human Rights Association and was first elected to the Turkish parliament in 2007. He is the former co-chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey's third-largest political party. He was re-elected as a member of parliament for the HDP in June 2015.

Demirtaș and 11 other members of his party were arrested on November 4, 2016 during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's crackdown on political opposition. Demirtaș was a member of parliament at the time of his arrest but his parliamentary immunity was lifted. The charges against him included "carrying out terrorist propaganda" based on speeches he made supporting peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). On January 18, 2017, Turkish prosecutors announced they were seeking a 142-year prison sentence on multiple charges for Demirtaş. On September 7, 2018, he was sentenced to four years and eight months for a speech he had made on March 20, 2013.

On November 20, 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights to which Turkey is a signatory, characterized the extensions of pretrial detention of Demirtaș as having the "ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting the freedom of political debate" and ordered his release. Based on the ruling, Demirtaș immediately appealed his detention before a Turkish court. But on November 30 the court rejected the appeal on the grounds that the ECHR ruling was not definitive. In addition, by the time of the ECHR ruling, Demirtaș had been convicted. Since the ruling addressed his lengthy pretrial detention, the government used the conviction as justification not to release him. The September 2018 sentence was upheld on December 4, 2018 by an appeals court.

Demirtaș ran as the HDP's candidate in Turkey’s 2018 presidential election from his prison cell. He came in third place with 8.40% of the vote -- over 4 million votes in total.

Advocate: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD)

Updates:

  • The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is set to hear Turkey’s appeal on the detention of Selahattin Demirtaş. The ECHR will reevaluate its ruling in the fall of 2018 that Mr. Demirtaş should be released, as his detention had exceeded a “reasonable period" (March 19, 2019, Hurriyet).
  • In an Op-Ed for the Washington Post, Selahattin Demirtaș discused the HDP's electoral successes in Turkey's recent municipal elections and presented his vision for building inclusive peace and democracy in Turkey (April 19, 2019, Washington Post).
  • The “Free Demirtaş Initiative” launched a social media campaign demanding freedom for Selahattin Demirtaș, the imprisoned former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) (August 6, 2019, Ahval).
  • In Turkey, the Ankara 19th High Criminal Court ruled to release jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş pending trial, but he was not allowed to leave prison since he had been convicted in another case (September 3, 2019, The Stockholm Center for Freedom).
  • In a letter to President Erdoğan, 48 members of the European Parliament called the arrest of Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, the former co-chairman of the HDP, and the persecution of other opposition members in Turkey a threat to democracy that cannot be justified (September 13, 2019, European Parliament).
  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) announced his decision to advocate for Selahattin Demirtaş through the TLHRC Defending Freedoms Project, calling the Kurdish politician's case "a scandal and an outrage" (Congressman Jamie Raskin Press Office, October 18, 2019).  
  • After temporarily losing consciousness and experiencing shortness of breath and chest pains, Demirtaş was denied specialized medical care and was returned to prison after a brief referred to the hospital on December 2nd (December 3, 2019, Turkey Purge).