Erdogan threatens Kurdish rival with death sentence, Demirtas responds

"If the Parliament had made the call, I would have signed the decision long ago," Erdogan told supporters who chanted for the execution of Demirtas.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the weekend suggested, if he were authorized, he would sign the death sentence of his imprisoned Kurdish rival Selahattin Demirtas as the country goes to the polls on June 24.

“If the Parliament had made the call, I would have signed the decision long ago,” the Turkish President said during a rally of his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the city of Kocaeli.

He was responding to his supporters’ slogans of “idam, idam! (execute, execute!)” as he blamed Demirtas for deadly Kurdish riots and clashes with police over the Islamic State (IS) attack on the town of Kobani in Syrian Kurdistan four years ago.

“Erdogan says he is going to execute me if he is re-elected. Take a look at the promise of a presidential candidate in the 2018 Turkey? I am ready to sacrifice my life a thousand times for the sake of our people. I am not taking one step back,” Demirtas said on Monday via his lawyers who post his remarks on Twitter.

Riots Erdogan was referring started after he, in October 2014, said “Kobani is on the verge of falling,” in a promising tone as the besieged town’s Kurdish defenders began receiving much-needed air support from the US-led Coalition.

Opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), then, urged people to take to the streets to protest the IS assault on Kobani and Erdogan’s government for its perceived support of the group.

The protests turned violent and led to the killing of 43 people, 33 of them HDP supporters, six members of a Kurdish-Islamist group, two police officers, and two Syrian refugees, in clashes between the sides.

In recent days, Erdogan has increasingly accused his presidential opponent of being the murderer of “my 53 Kurdish brothers,” a majority of whom were killed by Turkish police.

“There is not one single indictment against me for the Kobani riots,” the Kurdish candidate’s lawyers wrote on Twitter on his behalf.

Prosecutors ask for up to 142 years in prison for Demirtas over his speeches and political activities.

It is the first time in modern Turkey’s almost century-long history the head of state leveled the threat of execution against a political opponent.

“The judiciary must decide in no time,” Erdogan declared about Demirtas.

HDP’s former Co-leader remains in prison with no conviction since Ankara launched a crackdown on the party and over 100 municipalities in Kurdish provinces in late 2016 with charges of “terrorism and separatism.”

Demirtas, seven other lawmakers, some among them of the 11 MPs ousted from the Parliament, 80 mayors, and thousands of party members remain imprisoned.

Turkey has not applied the death penalty since 1984 and removed it from the law in 2004 as part of accession negotiations with the European Union.

However, Erdogan repeatedly promised to reintroduce it after a 2016 failed army coup attempt to overthrow him.

Under Demirtas’ leadership, HDP fiercely opposed Erdogan’s plans for a more powerful presidency that was approved by 51 percent of voters in a referendum last year, granting the latter executive authority circumventing parliamentary checks and balances.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany