Jailed Kurdish candidate for Turkey presidency launches campaign behind bars
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Selahattin Demirtas, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) candidate for the president of Turkey, has begun his campaign in prison via messages his lawyers post on social media.
Shortly after HDP announced Demirtas’ nomination on Friday, his official Twitter account began sending out remarks on the snap general and presidential elections on June 24.
“To those asking what I trust that I became a candidate from jail; in all opinion polls conducted in my prison cell, I came out first with 100%. Just kidding : ) Once I got 50% because I was angry at myself,” the former Co-chair of HDP, famous for his sense of humor, said in a Turkish-language tweet.
Attached was a picture of him in a white shirt, black waistcoat, and trousers walking the prison yard with another jailed HDP lawmaker, Abdullah Zeydan.
“It is now time to bring a leftist, democratic alternative against the right-wing Fascism,” he said in a more serious note, apparently targeting incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted administration and far-right nationalist allies.
The mainstream Turkish media, including all TV news channels, almost all of them now controlled by businesses close to the government, ignored a press conference by the HDP Co-leader Pervin Buldan in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir declaring Demirtas as a candidate.
The party had to live stream the event on its social media pages.
In a Saturday interview with Reuters, he called out an uneven playing field in favor of the government in the run-up to elections called for by Erdogan last month.
“Demonstrations are banned, talking is banned, criticizing the government is banned, even defending peace is considered terror propaganda. Hundreds of opposition journalists are arrested, dozens of TV and radio channels are closed,” he said.
“It is impossible [to have] fair elections in such an environment,” Demirtas said in a hand-written response to questions submitted by the news agency to his lawyers.
Prosecutors are asking for up to 142 years for Demirtas over charges of Kurdish separatism and “terrorism” on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for various speeches and remarks he has made over the years since his coming to prominence as a charismatic politician.
Authorities have kept him in detention since late 2016 when a massive state crackdown began on the HDP that has seen the jailing of at least eight MPs, the ouster from the parliament of 11 others, and imprisonment of 80 mayors and over 5,000 members.
Main opposition bloc Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Muharrem Ince urged freedom for his rival Demirtas during his first public rally on Saturday.
CHP’s Deputy leader Sezgin Tanrikulu also said the Kurdish leader had to be freed.
“Demirtas is still a lawmaker. And there is no upheld conviction against him. His continued detention is unjust, unlawful, and in contravention of criteria for fair elections. Mr. Demirtas must be released immediately,” he tweeted.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany