Turkish court orders conditional release of ex-HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas

A court in the Turkish capital city of Ankara has ordered the release of former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtas, detained since November 2016 on terror-related charges. His release is conditional upon whether he will be granted parole for a near five-year sentence he is currently serving, as well as the verdict of other terror-related charges posed against him.

According to a document shared by HDP officials – purportedly the court verdict – the release of the Kurdish leader has been ordered “if the defendant is not convicted for other crimes.”

“Today, a court has ruled that our former co-chair Selahattin Demirtas should be freed. Demirtas has been in prison for nearly three years on purely political charges. He must be released as soon as possible,” read a statement from the HDP.

Ramazan Demir, one of Demirtas’ lawyers, said Monday’s judicial order was given “unanimously.”

Demirtas, together with HDP co-chair Figen Yuksedag, was arrested in November 2016 for terror-related charges in a government clampdown on opposition groups after a failed military coup blamed on Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The court says the release order is for charges of “being a member of an armed terrorist organization,” made against him in November 2016 for alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). However, Demirtas has since been sentenced for additional charges, making his immediate release difficult to secure.

He received a four years and eight months long sentence in September 2018 for “propagating for a terrorist organization” in his March 2013 Newroz celebration speech in Diyarbakir where he commemorated the assassination of three Kurdish activists in Paris, allegedly killed by Turkish intelligence (MIT).

Mahsuni Karaman, another of his lawyers, said that Demirtas’ release is dependent on the verdict of other charges posed against him.

“Mr Demirtas was ordered released regarding the case he was detained for, but due to an ongoing case he may not be released immediately,” tweeted Karaman.

Awaiting trial and verdict for several more terrorism-related charges – mostly for other speeches he has given – Demirtas could face an additional 142 years in jail if found guilty.

Demirtas may be eligible for parole for his September 2018 sentence, due to the time he has spent in pretrial detention for November 2016 charges.

“There will be an application for the reduction of the four years and eight months sentence [he has received] from the two years and ten months he has served in jail,” HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas said.

Demirtas could be released within a year if the application for parole is successful, Bestas said, but added that there should be “no delay” to his release.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in November 2017 that the length of Demirtas’ pretrial detention was unnecessary and called for his release.

“The Court found that the judicial authorities had extended Mr Demirtas’ detention on grounds that could not be regarded as ‘sufficient’ to justify its duration,” the ECHR said, adding that Turkey “was to take all necessary measures to put an end to the applicant’s pretrial detention.”

While detained, Demirtas has been granted limited freedom of communication, through face-to-face meetings with family and with the public through Twitter. Tweets from the account, managed by his lawyers, are sent after review by prison authorities.

The release order comes after a recent crackdown on the party, beginning with the government-ordered removal of three HDP mayors in the Kurdish cities of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, accused of using their positions to financially assist the PKK. Hundreds of party members were also arrested nationwide.