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European court urges Turkey to free pro-Kurdish leader

Selahattin Demirtas, one of two former co-leaders of the leftist pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), was arrested in Turkey in November 2016 over alleged links to Kurdish militants
Selahattin Demirtas, one of two former co-leaders of the leftist pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), was arrested in Turkey in November 2016 over his alleged links to Kurdish militants Selahattin Demirtas, one of two former co-leaders of the leftist pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), was arrested in Turkey in November 2016 over alleged links to Kurdish militants AFP/File
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Strasbourg (France) (AFP)

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday called on Turkey to release pro-Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas, ruling his detention since 2016 on terror charges was aimed at "stifling pluralism".

Demirtas, one of two former co-leaders of the leftist pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), was arrested in November 2016 over his alleged links to Kurdish militants.

At the time of his arrest the charismatic politician dubbed the Kurdish Obama was a member of parliament.

The court in the French city of Strasbourg said it accepted that Demirtas had been arrested on "reasonable suspicion" of committing a crime, but said the reasons given for keeping him behind bars were not "sufficient" and constituted "an unjustified interference with the free expression of the opinion of the people".

It found that the extension of his detention through a referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers, and later a presidential election, were aimed at "stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate, which was at the very core of the concept of a democratic society".

"The court therefore held, unanimously, that the respondent state was to take all necessary measures to put an end to the applicant?s pre-trial detention," it added, ordering Turkey to pay Demirtas 10,000 euros ($11,492) in damages and 15,000 euros towards his legal costs.

Demirtas, 45, is charged with a string of offences, including terrorist propaganda, for which he faces up to 142 years' imprisonment if convicted.

He denies all the charges and claims the case against him is politically motivated.

In June, he ran for president from prison, coming third with 8.4 percent of the vote.

The ECHR hears cases of alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights of which Turkey is a signatory.

Its rulings are binding on member states and Turkey, like fellow member Russia, has in the past usually implemented its findings.

It was unclear however whether it would comply with the order to release Demirtas.

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