HDP’s Demirtaş: My candidacy from prison a shame for Turkish politics and AKP

“My candidacy from prison is a shame for the political landscape in Turkey and the Justice and Development Party [AKP] government,” said Selahattin Demirtaş, presidential candidate of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the June 24 elections during an interview with Le Courrier, a daily newspaper published in the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland.

Responding to questions from the Swiss newspaper in writing from the Edirne High Security Type F Prison, Demirtaş said: “I am running my election campaign from prison, with next to nothing resources. My campaign tools are my lawyers and the messages I send outside through the post. But the true campaign is carried out outside in my name by my party HDP and millions of young friends. I support them from here. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan campaigns with all the opportunities the state and the media have to offer, while I do what I can from my cell in this prison, trusting in the heart, courage and faith of women and the youth.”

“My release wouldn’t be illegal, what’s illegal is my arrest. If there was due process, I wouldn’t have been arrested in the first place. In the end, what determines my situation will be how much the people defend me, and general political developments,” Demirtaş said and added that he has not been allowed to see any people in the prison other than his cellmate, HDP deputy Abdullah Zeydan.

Demirtaş stressed that he never lost the tenacity to struggle despite being in prison, and said: “Despite all, we are strong and our morale is high. I would like to first say that it’s not just me, there are 11 [HDP] deputies and thousands of party members under arrest. There is a clear political operation against us, and our party. The judiciary was used against us as mere brutal force in this political operation, and it continues to be so.”

Demirtaş continued: “The results we achieved in the June 7 and November 1 elections in 2015 posed a great barrier against Erdoğan and his government’s projects. Erdoğan and the AKP see us as the greatest rival, so they increased the pressure and the attacks and went so far as to arrest thousands of party members and confiscate municipalities.”

“I believe that the HDP will go over the 10 percent election threshold on its own. I believe it hasn’t sit well with the people that other alliances have excluded us and attempted to push us below the threshold. Under these circumstances, I believe that the people will embrace the HDP further.”

Also, according to Turkish media reports, a campaign speech made by Demirtaş from prison to be broadcast on Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) will also be shown during the party’s election rally in İstanbul on June 17. Demirtaş has been in pre-trial detention since November 2016 on terror charges.

On Tuesday, Demirtaş’s campaign speech was taped in Edirne Prison, where he is incarcerated. Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) previously approved an application from the HDP for Demirtaş to record two 10-minute-long campaign speeches at TRT studios in Ankara, like other candidates. However, the board changed its decision for Demirtaş, who had applied to be taken to Ankara to make the videos and ruled that Demirtaş be taped in Edirne Prison.

TRT will start to broadcast the speeches of presidential candidates on June 17, with Doğu Perinçek appearing first, followed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Demirtaş and Temel Karamollaoğlu.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Muharrem İnce and İYİ Party presidential candidate Meral Akşener have refused to appear on TRT, which they criticized for a lack of news coverage on the opposition.

The HDP’s election rally in İstanbul will take place at the Bakırköy Public Bazaar. The rally is expected to begin at 5 p.m. and end at 9 p.m. Demirtaş’s 10-minute-long speech will be shown on a giant screen in the area where HDP Co-chairpersons Pervin Buldan and Sezai Temelli will also deliver speeches.

Meanwhile, the HDP’s imprisoned former co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ said, “It is the women who will overcome the threshold of oppression,” in a letter she wrote from Kandıra Prison in Kocaeli province, where she is currently held.

According to a report by Bianet on Tuesday, touching on the murder of women, workplace deaths, gender-based violence and a crackdown on society, Yüksekdağ said, “In many ways, this election will be a women’s election because it is the women who will tear down the threshold of oppression.”

The HDP is the second-largest opposition party in the Turkish Parliament. The Turkish government’s crackdown on the Kurdish political movement began in late 2016 with the arrest of high profile politicians, including the party’s then co-chairs, Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, which led to the detention of at least 5,000 members of the HDP, including 80 mayors.

Trustees have been appointed to dozens of municipalities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast. There are currently nine HDP deputies behind bars. The developments have attracted widespread criticism from the region and Western countries.

Turkish authorities had conducted direct talks with Abdullah Öcalan, jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for several years until a truce in effect collapsed in the summer of 2015. Since then, there have been heavy clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces.

More than 40,000 people, including 5,500 security force members, have been killed in four decades of fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Over 1,200 Turkish security personnel and civilians, including a number of women and children, have been killed since July 2015 alone, when the Turkish government and the PKK resumed the armed struggle.

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