European lawmakers call for pressure on Turkey for Demirtas' freedom

Two Greek and Belgian-Flemish MEPs who spoke to Kurdistan 24 voiced pessimism over prospects of Erdogan releasing Demirtas.

BRUSSELS (Kurdistan 24) – Unlike top EU diplomats closely engaging with Turkey over an array of issues, two members of the European Parliament who talked to Kurdistan 24 over the weekend said Brussels had to pressure Ankara to free Kurdish political leader Selahattin Demirtas from prison.

MEPs Georgios Epitidios and Gerolf Annemans, of Greece and Belgium respectively, urged the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to abide by a ruling last week of the European Human Rights Court (ECtHR) to free Demirtas.

“In my view, Mr. Demirtas should be released immediately. He should not have been arrested [in the first place]. However, Turkey is violating human rights. It is not a democratic country,” Epitidios of the Greek nationalist Golden Dawn party said during an interview in Brussels.

ECtHR ruled in favor of the former leader of Turkey’s second largest opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Demirtas, in his appeal against Ankara on the grounds the former has politically violated the latter’s rights during the now over two-year-long detention.

“President Erdogan is very aggressive and suppressive. Honestly speaking, I do not see any indication that Mr. Demirtas [will be] released,” he added in a pessimistic comment.

EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and the bloc’s top diplomat for Enlargement policy, Johannes Hahn, said during a visit to Turkey that they “hoped” the once Erdogan rival would be freed.

The Turkish leader who has over the years amassed extraordinary powers repeatedly called Demirtas a “terrorist” and vowed to keep him jailed by rejecting the decision of the ECtHR, the very court he in the past applied three times and successfully managed to sue Turkey for the violation of his political rights.

Demirtas was arrested in November 2016 at the beginning of a wide-ranging crackdown on the opposition including the Kurdish movement with charges of “terrorism and separatism” over his previous speeches. Prosecutors ask up to 142 years in jail.

The EU must exercise pressure much more decisively over the long-time candidate state, Epitidios argued, through the cutting of European financial funds and halting the already-stalled accession negotiations.

“Turkey is using violence in its relations with other countries. It also applies violence to Turks and the Kurdish people. There has to be a strong reaction from the international community. To demand respect for human rights without creating pressure is hypocrisy,” he added.

Annemans, the Belgian MEP of Vlaams Belang Party (Flemish Interest), said holding political prisoners was not “a good idea for any regime.”

“We will support any kind of action to pressure Turkey [to give up] its human rights violations. The evolution of Turkey in the last 10 years is not something that makes us very happy,” he said while voicing his opposition to Ankara’s membership in the EU.

He accused Turkey of “arrogance” and “rejection” of European values.

“We need a Turkey that is a good neighbor. One that we want to have good relations with, not a [country] that is evolving into a pro-Islamic state.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

(Kurdistan 24 correspondent Barzan Hassan in Brussels conducted the interviews)