“I am not a victim here. As one of the representatives of the liberation struggle I am a revolutionary who has been taken hostage because of my thoughts and political situation,” Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed presidential candidate of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), told Bianet in an exclusive interview.
Demirtaş, who has been running his election campaign from prison with very limited means, underlined to Bianet that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using all available resources in his campaign and added: “My campaign is run from a prison cell, it can never meet the level of Erdoğan’s campaign. This situation is a serious violation of voters’ rights if no attempt is made to normalise it. I am certainly the candidate in the most disadvantaged position.”
Despite his very limited possibilities, Demirtaş said he had closely followed the discourse of all other presidential candidates. “No candidate has been able to put forward a vision of the future centered on liberties. None of them has such an ability or mentality. Voters have not heard a single idea in these speeches or projects able to inspire hope and excitement about liberties. That discourse belongs to the HDP candidate, who has not yet been able to meet his voters.”
Demirtaş told Bianet that if he wins the election, his first step will be to invite all political party leaders to meet around the table and seek consensus on a joint program and roadmap for the period of transition to democracy.
Responding to controversial pro-Erdoğan journalist Ahmet Hakan, who said, “He presents himself as a victim in prison, and he will certainly turn the victimhood into a vote,” Demirtaş said: “I am not a victim here. As one of the representatives of the liberation struggle I am a revolutionary who has been taken hostage because of my thoughts and political situation. It was not my choice to go to prison, but I believe that I retained my stance when I was thrown in here. Society does not consider every prisoner a victim. I am not a victim, and I stuck to my firm stance. In any case, I wouldn’t advise anyone to get riled up on Ahmet Hakan’s account and land themselves in prison.”
The Turkish government is holding Demirtaş in a jail in Edirne on accusations of “terrorism” and “separatism,” charges he denies. The government jailed Demirtaş along with a dozen other HDP deputies in late 2016 after night house raids that spanned several provinces. Prosecutors are seeking up to 142 years in prison in various cases against Demirtaş, although he insists he is a politician and cannot be jailed for his political activities.
Demirtaş, also former co-leader of the HDP, is competing with the incumbent President Erdoğan in the run-up to elections that will be held on June 24. In interviews from prison, he has often complained of unfair conditions as the country goes to snap elections Erdoğan himself called.
His other rivals, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Muharrem İnce, the İYİ Party’s Meral Akşener and the Felicity Party’s (SP) Temel Karamollaoğlu, have said Demirtaş should be freed.