ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Imprisoned Kurdish leader and a candidate for president of Turkey Selahattin Demirtas appeared on national TV for the first time on Sunday since his arrest 20 months ago as the country gears up for elections in less than 10 days.
“The only reason I am here is because AKP is afraid of me,” he said in a 10-minute speech on state TRT TV, pre-recorded at a supermax prison in Edirne Province on the border with the European Union where authorities keep him.
The public-funded broadcaster is legally mandated to allocate time for each candidate, though the opposition has loudly condemned it for much more airtime it gives to the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also the head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
A thinner-looking Demirtas in a suit called Erdogan “a low-grade bully,” and “delusional” without naming him and told voters not to choose a one-man rule.
“What we are going through nowadays is only the trailer of the one-man regime. The actual scary part is yet to begin. By casting your votes, you will decide on June 24 whether to consolidate the atmosphere of fear,” he said.
“There is a one-time opportunity ahead before entering, dark tunnel with no end in sight. We should take advantage and will pull our country back from the precipice,” he said.
Earlier in the day, state-owned Anadolu Agency ran a news story with the headline “A First in the History of World Democracy,” apparently in praise of the current state of Turkish democracy for allowing him to speak from behind bars.
“Presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas will be the first presidential candidate in the history of world democracy to have made a speech on the state TV while in detention as TRT is to air his remarks,” it said, without specifying what time he would appear.
Demirtas reminded that he has appeared before a court only twice since his arrest in November 2016, adding all charges against him are based on his previous remarks as the former Co-leader of the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
“I am not going to bow down even if [they] hold me for not 20 months, but 20 years, in prison,” Demirtas vowed.
Erdogan has numerous times labeled him as a “terrorist” and last week went so far as to suggest that he should be executed for 2014 Kurdish riots, though no charges stand against Demirtas in relation to the deadly protests in which 43 people were killed, a majority of them by police.
Demirtas said the empowered Erdogan who “threatens with prison, and death” was now “afraid of his own shadow.”
He explained that judiciary in Turkey had bowed to Erdogan and his continued detention was a result of political pressure.
As millions tuned in at home, tens of thousands of others watched the imprisoned leader on giant screens in Istanbul and Bursa, western Turkish cities with sizeable Kurdish populations where HDP was holding election rallies.
In the capital Ankara though, the police did not let the party set up screens at Ahmed Arif public park for people to watch.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany