The Council of Europe on Wednesday (2 February) launched for only the second time in its history disciplinary action against Turkey over its failure to free activist Osman Kavala, with Ankara denouncing the decision as interference.
The pan-European rights body’s committee of ministers agreed the move over Turkey’s repeated refusal to comply with a 2019 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights to release Kavala from jail.
Under the rules of the Strasbourg-based COE, the case will now be referred back to the ECHR, which will examine if Turkey has complied with its original 2019 ruling.
Its new verdict could then prompt action from the committee of ministers, including suspension of Turkey’s voting rights or even expulsion from the COE under article eight of its statutes.
A COE spokesman declined to comment, saying an official statement would be issued Thursday.
The Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement that the committee of ministers had agreed by “majority vote” to refer the case back to the ECHR.
The committee “has maintained its stance that interferes with the independence of the judicial proceedings and violated the principle of respect for judicial proceedings,” the Turkish foreign ministry said.
A source close to the case in Strasbourg, who asked not to be named, also confirmed to AFP the case was going back to the ECHR.
This is only the second time the COE has used infringement proceedings against one of its 47 member states, the first occasion being a 2017 action against Azerbaijan over its refusal to release dissident Ilgar Mammadov.
The procedure was created in 2010 to ensure full compliance with ECHR rulings, which are legally binding for COE member states and not advisory.
It comes as concern grows over rights abuses under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish leader has repeatedly targeted Kavala, who has now been in jail for over four years without ever being convicted of a crime.
Amnesty International’s Europe Director Nils Muiznieks hailed the move as a “landmark decision”.
“Turkey is in the dock not only for its refusal to free a prominent human rights defender from arbitrary detention but also for a gross failure of its justice system epitomised by the Kavala case,” he said.
A Turkish court had on January 17 ignored a final deadline set by the COE for the release of Kavala by ordering that he be kept in jail.
He is charged with financing 2013 anti-government protests and playing a role in an attempted coup against Erdogan in 2016.
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