21st SESSION                Information document
20 October 2011

Visit to Ms Leyla Güven, member of the Congress, detained in the E-Type prison of Diyarbakir, Turkey

The Bureau of the Congress took note of this document at its meetings of 17 and 20 October 2011 and decided to make this revised text available to the members of the Congress

Following the ongoing detention of a significant number of mayors and municipal councillors in Turkey since 24 December 2009, among them Congress member Ms Leyla Güven, the Session, the Statutory Forum, the Bureau and the Monitoring Committee of the Congress have expressed concern that this is preventing democratically elected leaders from carrying out their duties to their citizens. Many of the politicians were elected by large majorities, giving them a strong democratic mandate to represent the populations of the municipalities concerned. The Congress has stressed that the application of anti-terrorism legislation has had a disproportionately destructive effect on the functioning of local and regional democracy in Turkey.

Since 2010 the Congress has been trying to arrange a visit to its member Leyla Güven, mayor of Viransehir, who was detained without charges for almost a year and – after the opening of the court proceedings on 18 October 2010 – still is in custody. In May 2010 Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, visited Ms Güven in prison and also expressed concern about the large scale detention of local politicians.  

Following a letter of Congress President Keith Whitmore to the Turkish Minister of Justice, the Turkish authorities finally granted a Congress delegation permission to pay a visit to Leyla Güven in Diyarbakir E-Type prison on 6 October 2011.

The delegation comprised Mr Anders Knape, Vice-President of the Congress and President of the Swedish Association of Local and Regional Authorities (SALAR), Mr Leen Verbeek, Vice-President of the Dutch delegation to the Congress and Governor of the Province of Flevoland, and Mr Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress. They were accompanied by Ms Gaye Doganoglu, the head of the Turkish delegation to the Congress.

The delegation was able to speak with Ms Güven for almost two hours and to learn about the conditions of her imprisonment. Leyla Güven’s case appears to be representative of that of a large number of local politicians, elected by large majorities, who are detained and prevented from serving their citizens. In the weeks before the visit dozens more local politicians and civil servants were arrested. On 4 October 2011 a dispute broke between the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and German authorities, when the former claimed that German funds for municipal infrastructure projects in South-Eastern Turkey were being diverted to the PKK.  This has been rejected by Germany.

According to information made available to the delegation, the number of municipal politicians, local officials and human rights activists in detention at the beginning of October 2011 was over 3,000.

Leyla Güven appeared to be in good physical condition although the sanitation in the prison was poor. Twenty-three inmates had to share rooms normally foreseen for 8 persons, water for showering was only available for a short period of time each day. Ms Güven confirmed that she and the other detainees were treated respectfully by all ranks of the prison staff. She regretted that no contact with her had been made by the Union of Turkish Municipalities or the members of the Turkish delegation to the Congress. She insisted that she and the other mayors concerned should have the right to defend themselves in their Kurdish mother tongue. The delegation also noted, however, signs of stress such as perspiration and tension. Ms Güven insisted that the political issues in the region had to be solved within Turkey and that the unity of Turkey was not at stake.

The delegation did not and will not comment on the allegations presented by the parties concerned but remains convinced that an apparently systematic, massive and ongoing persecution of local politicians is undermining local democracy in this large member state of the Council of Europe, which committed itself to the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law as far back as in 1949.

The delegation held an exchange of views with a group of mayors of the region, led by Mr Osman Baydemir, Mayor of Diyarbakir. The mayors expressed uncertainty and fear that they would be unable to continue to perform their democratic responsibilities until the end of their electoral mandate.

The Mayor of Sur, Mr Abdullah Demirbas presented the delegation with a full medical report and reminded them that he is currently prevented from leaving the country because of a travel ban, although he has been advised by doctors to seek treatment outside of Turkey.

The delegation, accompanied by Gaye Doganoglu, Head of the Turkish delegation, also met with the Governor of Diyarbakir, Mr Mustafa Toprak.
The members of the delegation propose that the Bureau of the Congress take note of this information, make it available to Congress members in the October Session and give them the opportunity to answer questions from Congress members.

The Bureau of the Congress:

• condemns any form of terrorism and organisations involved in it.

• continues to publicly defend the responsibilities of democratically elected representatives in all member states of the Council of Europe;

The Bureau of the Congress decides to:

• ask the President of the Congress to invite the Commissioner of Human Rights to look into the issue of the detention of local elected politicians in Turkey in the light of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and to organise a meeting with a Congress delegation about the case of Leyla Güven and of other local politicians in South-Eastern Turkey who are in a similar situation;

• send a delegation to visit Ms Güven again within a year to show solidarity with a Congress member;

• invite the Monitoring Committee to closely look into the massive detention of local elected politicians in the light of the spirit and the letter of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and to report back to the Congress with its conclusions;

• ask the President of the Congress to invite the President of the Venice Commission to examine the question of the use of languages other than Turkish in the Venice Commission’s constitutional assistance to Turkey;

• endorse the positions put forward in the process of the EU accession of Turkey regarding the improvement of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Turkey;

• request its President to regularly inform the Committee of Ministers about this situation;

• invite the President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) to examine the detention conditions of Ms. Güven in the Diyarbakir E-Type prison;

• ask the Secretary General of the Congress to inform the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly.