ECHR says Turkey violated human rights of jailed Kurdish ex-mayor
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that Turkey’s pre-trial detention of Tuncer Bakırhan, the former Kurdish co-mayor of southeastern Siirt province, who has been prisoned on terrorism-related offences, was unjustified and breached his right to freedom of expression.
The court said Turkey violated Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning liberty and security and Article 10 on the freedom of expression and ruled the Turkish government would pay a total of 13,000 euros (15,300) to the applicant in non-pecuniary damage and expenses.
A former head of closed pro-Kurdish Democratic People Party (DEHAP) and the mayor for the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP), Bakırhan was arrested on Dec. 16, 2016 and had his mayoral position rescinded by the Interior Ministry the next day.
He was initially charged on July 2018 for being a member of a banned terrorist organisation (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)), 18 counts of making propaganda for a banned terrorist organisation, and two counts of organising illegal meetings, demonstrations or marches, and faced up to 111 years in prison.
The court gave him eight years and nine months for membership of a banned terrorist organisation and one year, three months and 15 days for making propaganda for a banned terrorist organisation.
After a higher court reversed the ruling in November 2018, Bakırhan re-trialled and sentenced to 10 years, 10 months and 15 days in prison in October 2020 for being a member of a banned terrorist organisation, making propaganda for a banned terrorist organisation and insulting the Turkish nation, the state of the Republic of Turkey and the institutions of the state.
In the case concerning Bakırhan’s application that was lodged with the ECHR on May 10, 2019, the ECHR Chamber noted that the applicant had been imprisoned for about two years and 11 months, of which more than two years and eight months were spent in pre-trial detention and it held that there had not been sufficient reasons to order the applicant’s detention pending trial.
According to the court’s ruling, the activities for which the applicant was criticised had been clearly political in nature.
Having regard to the fundamental nature of free political debate in a democratic society, the Court could perceive no compelling reason justifying the seriousness of the measure in question, it said.
The court considered that the fact of detaining the applicant, an elected representative of the people, for such a period on account of his political activities constituted an interference that was manifestly disproportionate to the legitimate aims pursued.
Bakırhan’s had not been ''necessary in a democratic society,’’ the court said.