European courts deal a serious blow to British support for Turkey’s anti-Kurdish war

A judge's gavel in court
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Two European courts have just dealt a serious blow to the UK’s ongoing support for the Turkish state’s war against occupied Kurdish communities. In particular, they’ve taken aim at Turkey’s highly questionable use of the word ‘terrorism’ to justify its abuses.

Terrorists? Says who?

Turkey has fought against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for decades. There have been big losses on both sides and, as in most conflicts, civilians were often caught in the middle. But today, the PKK condemns all attacks on civilians; and has reportedly never attacked Western targets. In recent years, a peace agreement looked increasingly possible; until Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ended the process in 2015 and repressed his political opponents by calling them ‘terrorists’.

Britain’s Conservative-led government, meanwhile, is a “real friend” of Erdoğan and gave him the red-carpet treatment earlier this year. This helped to boost his legitimacy just before an election campaign which came amid allegations of war crimes, ethnic cleansingsupport for jihadi forces in Syria, alliances with neo-Nazislooting, and lying. Despite all this, the British government has fostered a close relationship with Turkey, especially in the run-up to Brexit, selling it over $1bn worth of arms in the last two years. And this alliance has seen Westminster actively campaign to ensure the world keeps seeing the PKK as a ‘terrorist’ group.

On 15 November, however, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the Council of the European Union – “supported by” the UK – had “failed to indicate sufficiently the actual and specific reasons” for keeping the PKK on the EU’s list of terrorist groups, particularly in light of recent peace talks. The court thus ordered the annulment of the PKK’s inclusion on that list from 2014 to 2017. It also ordered the council to pay the PKK’s costs, and the UK to bear its own costs.

Court: Turkey’s pre-trial detention of high-profile “political hostage” must end

Turkey’s most high-profile ‘terrorist’ smear focuses on peace campaigner and former presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş. A 2017 letter from numerous public figures and UK MPs explained how he was in prison on “trumped-up charges” amid a fervent government crackdown targeting Demirtaş’s left-wing and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) ever since its electoral successes in 2015 helped to take away Erdoğan’s majority. The government targeted the HDP by claiming it had links with the PKK, even though the HDP and PKK are different organisations. By late 2017, it had reportedly arrested around 11,000 HDP members – including elected politicians. And this witch hunt continues today.

On 20 November, however, Turkey’s campaign against Demirtaş and his party suffered a significant setback. Because the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that:

[Turkey’s] judicial authorities had extended Mr Demirtas’ detention on grounds that could not be regarded as ‘sufficient’ to justify its duration

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And as it awarded Demirtaş €10,000 in damages and €15,000 in costs, it stressed that the Turkish state should:

take all necessary measures to put an end to the applicant’s pre-trial detention

It also highlighted the damaging effect that his imprisonment had on the legitimacy of recent elections in Turkey:

The extensions of Mr Demirtas’ detention, especially during two crucial campaigns… pursued the predominant ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate

Demirtaş claimed this ruling confirmed he was “a political hostage”. The EU’s rapporteur on Turkey, meanwhile, stressed that the detention was “of a political, not a criminal nature” and called for his immediate release.

The UK must hold its ally to account

The ECHR monitors human rights abuses in 47 member states of the Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member. So its ruling regarding Demirtaş is legally binding. But Turkey has a record of failing to implement many previous rulings; and it looks like it will ignore this one too.

However, the ECHR ruling and the CJEU ruling makes one thing clear. And that is just how cynical and arbitrary Turkey’s smearing and jailing of its opponents really is. Instead of negotiating a lasting peace with its Kurdish communities, the Turkish state has opted for continued hostilities and smear tactics.

No amount of arms sales can justify the British government’s ongoing commitment to apologising for Turkey’s anti-democratic tactics. It must hold its ally to account.

Featured image via pixabay

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Get involved

  • Ask Theresa May and your MP to urge Turkey to resume peace talks with its internal opponents and to release all political prisoners.
  • Read more Canary articles on Turkey, and see more international reporting from us at The Canary Global.

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