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Selahattin Demirtas must be freed say MEPs calling for Turkey’s EU accession bid to be scrapped

JAILED former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtas must be freed from his Turkish prison, the European Parliament declared yesterday, amid warnings that Turkey is becoming “a dictatorship.”

A fiery session in Brussels debated a motion on the plight of Mr Demirtas and other political prisoners, condemning Turkey for holding him and others as “political hostages” and for ignoring a December ruling from the European Court of Human Rights demanding his immediate release.

The debate took place ahead of today’s visit to Brussels by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who will meet EU leaders in a bid to get Ankara’s stalled accession bid back on track.

It is a move welcomed by the EU which responded warmly to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who insisted he wants to “turn a new page” with the economic bloc in a recent phone call with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Dutch Labour Party MEP Kati Piri told the session: “1,500 days. That’s how long Selahattin Demirtas has been in jail now. He’s been ripped away from his wife, Basak, and taken away from his two children for four years.

“Now what is his crime?” she asked. “His crime is to represent the voiceless people, is to enter politics and to speak out against the authoritarianism of President Erdogan,” calling for action as she reminded Mr Demirtas: “We are with you.”

Die Linke’s Ozlem Demirel told MEPs that those being held were not prisoners, but hostages and asked for details over the discussions EU leaders have held with their Turkish counterparts behind closed doors.

“Of course we need dialogue but at the same time we need transparency,” she said. “So I ask you, what did [German Foreign Minister] Heiko Mass actually go there to discuss?

“And what is [EU High Representative Josep] Borrell discussing now? Which geopolitical and economic interests are being discussed by the EU, or is it truly the case that the EU is taking a stance on human rights or freedoms?”

Speakers lined up to condemn Turkey over its continued human rights atrocities and agreed that firm action was needed, with some saying that the door should be firmly shut on Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

But the resolution is not binding and it is believed that the EU Commission and the Council of Ministers are likely to ignore the call to take action, viewing Turkey as too important economically and militarily.

Speaking to the Morning Star after the debate, HDP representative for the European Institutions in Strasbourg Fayik Yagizay warned that the continued silence from the EU simply emboldens Mr Erdogan.

“This is typical, there is a lot of talk but when it comes to action the EU remains silent or even the opposite. Erdogan knows this and doesn’t take it seriously.”

He explained that the Council of Ministers continually ignores motions passed by the European Parliament because it prioritises “state-to-state relations” and puts its economic and military interests above human rights.

Recently Mr Mass intervened to block a Greek motion calling for an arms embargo on Turkey because he said it would not be “strategically correct” and Ankara would simply purchase weapons from Russia.

He is currently on the Council of Europe committee of ministers which is due to meet in March to discuss the European Court of Human Rights decision and any action that may force Turkey to implement its ruling to free Mr Demirtas.

Mr Yagizay insisted that Mr Erdogan was keeping the popular Kurdish politician in prison “because he is afraid of him” and is keeping him as a “political hostage” as revenge for the HDP entering politics.

He favours “targeted economic sanctions against Erdogan and his family” to force Turkey’s bullish leader to take action.

The HDP does not want to see Turkey expelled from the Council of Europe, a measure it is admittedly unlikely to take, but insists that it must use “other instruments” to place pressure on its rogue member state.

HDP representatives Hisyar Ozsoy and Feleknas Uca are due for talks next week as they arrive in Strasbourg for a parliamentary session.

Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 while accession talks officially began in 2005.

However, negotiations first stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot administration on the divided island of Cyprus, as well as opposition from Germany and France.

The relationship has been rocky under Mr Erdogan but the EU is reluctant to lose Turkey as it is geopolitically too important and the trading bloc has a lot of direct investment in the country.

It also has an eye on the deal struck with Ankara to keep refugees from entering the EU which Mr Erdogan frequently uses as a threat.

To gain membership, Turkey has to successfully conclude negotiations on 35 policy chapters that involve reforms and the adoption of European standards.

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