ECtHR finds right violations in the detention of former mayor of Siirt

Pre-trial detention of the mayor of a city in south-east Turkey was unjustified and breached his right to freedom of expression, ruled the ECtHR on Tuesday.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Tuncer Bakırhan v. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 3 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression).

At the local elections of 30 March 2014, Bakırhan was elected mayor of Siirt, having stood as a candidate for the BDP party (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi, “Peace and Democracy Party”). Following his placement in pre-trial detention, he was removed from his post. He was released on 11 October 2019. The authorities accused Bakırhan of disseminating propaganda in favour of PKK and of being a member of that organisation. In October 2019 he was sentenced to 10 years and 18 days’ imprisonment by the Siirt Assize Court. The criminal proceedings against him are still pending.

Relying on Article 5 § 3 (right to liberty and security), Bakırhan complained about his pre-trial detention, which he considered to have been arbitrary. Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), he complained that he had been placed and maintained in pre-trial detention on account of public statements made by him or for having attended certain gatherings. The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 10 May 2019.

The Court 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. It held that there had not been sufficient reasons to order the applicant’s detention pending trial.

The Court also noted that the applicant had been the mayor of a city and elected to represent an opposition party. In the Court’s view, 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.

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. It followed that the detention in question had not been necessary in a democratic society.

The Court held that Turkey was to pay the applicant 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 3,000 in respect of costs and expenses.