Turkish President Erdoğan slams calls for release of HDP presidential candidate

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slammed calls from opposition parties to release pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been in pretrial detention since November 2016.

According to a report by the pro-government Hürriyet Daily News, Erdoğan said at a political rally in the southeastern province of Adıyaman on Friday that only the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are demanding the presence of the HDP in parliament.

Erdoğan’s comment came after CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu stressed the importance of the presence of the HDP in parliament in an interview last week. “This party [HDP] has failed to be a real political party since it could not rescue itself from the control of the bloody-handed organization,” Erdoğan claimed.

HDP Co-chair Sezai Temelli on Friday released the results of a survey on the upcoming elections on June 24 and said his party’s chances of surpassing the 10 percent threshold to enter to parliament are razor-thin.

“According to the results of a poll we received yesterday, our party’s share of the vote is around 10,2 percent. This will increase. However, the government is responsible for this situation,” Temelli said during a visit to the Saturday Mothers, an initiative of women who lost their sons in conflict between the Turkish army and the PKK militants.

Temelli blames a decision by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) to move or consolidate polling stations in 19 predominantly Kurdish provinces for a possible decrease in the HDP’s votes.

President Erdoğan also accused the elected HDP mayors of southeastern provinces, who were later ousted and replaced by state-appointed mayors, of serving the “interests of terrorists” instead of locals. He said a party like this had no place in parliament.

Erdoğan slammed the CHP’s presidential candidate, Muharrem İnce, who called for the release of the HDP’s presidential nominee, Selahattin Demirtaş, from prison. “You [İnce] went to Edirne to visit this person. Wasn’t it this man who was responsible for the killing of 53 people in an attack that occurred after the June 7, 2015 elections in Diyarbakır? Who are you serving?” he said.

“What are you talking about by asking for his release? There is justice in this country. Fifty-three of our brothers were killed by them,” Erdoğan said, vowing that justice would be served.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu also said on Tuesday that Demirtaş fit the perfect profile of a prison inmate. “If not that person who caused the death of 53 people with one order, then who is to be put behind bars? Can someone explain this to me?” Soylu asked in apparent reference to Demirtaş’s call for protests in October 2014 against what many Kurds saw as Turkish support for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants attacking the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

Demirtaş’s lawyers issued a written statement on Saturday and said that “Yesterday, a new chapter was added to the smear campaign known as the October 6-8 Incidents that have been abused by the AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and prominent AKP members for four years.”

According to a report by pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency (ANF) on Saturday, the lawyers said that “There is no doubt that the AKP presidential candidate aims both for black propaganda for the upcoming presidential elections and to give a message to the judiciary for Mr. Demirtaş’s individual appeal to the Constitutional Court. On this matter, we announce that we will be pressing charges against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who constantly attacks the personal rights of our client, slanders him with accusations of ‘terrorist’ and ‘murderer’ and thus intervenes with cases in both local courts and the Constitutional Court, tramples the presumption of innocence principle and passes verdicts, including a suit for damages.”

The lawyers also refuted Erdoğan’s remarks and stated that:

“Mr. Demirtaş has not made any calls before the October 6-8 Incidents. In the casefile, there is no evidence that claims our client has made any such calls. On the contrary, especially on October 7 and 9, he has issued calls to calm the situation down and avoid provocations.

“Mr. Demirtaş is not accused of any such crime in the indictment that comprises the basis of the casefile prepared by the Diyarbakır Chief Prosecutor’s Office and heard in the Ankara 19th High Criminal Court that he is on remand for.

“These ugly allegations that judicial authorities haven’t even considered worthwhile claims to make subject to an investigation or prosecution are completely untrue. Our client is not on trial for instigating any person or persons’ death, there is no such accusation against him.”

Moreover, on Saturday, Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) has given a green light to Demirtaş to campaign on state-owned TRT television ahead of the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections, b-reported by the online news outlet T24.

TRT has been the subject of criticism for giving disproportionate air time to certain political parties and heavily favouring the ruling AKP. TRT will be heading to Edirne province, where Demirtaş remains in pre-trial detention, the site said. All candidates will have two 10 minute slots for the first round of the presidential elections, with the same time frame being allotted should the election go into second round.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is looking to retain his seat in the upcoming election which will usher in a new presidential system that was narrowly approved in last year’s referendum and is set to grant the president increased powers.

Demirtaş has been imprisoned on terror charges since November 2016 but is yet to be convicted. HDP officials had appealed for his release so that he can run his presidential campaign. İnce supported this move and paid a visit to Demirtaş in Edirne Prison.

Many, including his rivals İnce, Meral Akşener and Temel Karamollaoğlu, have been calling for Demirtaş’s release during the presidential campaign so the election can take place in a democratic environment and under equal conditions for all presidential candidates.

Demirtaş’s campaign will reportedly appeal to voters of all parties and highlight a process of normalization in Turkey. If he is not released from prison, Demirtaş will conduct his campaign with messages sent from prison through his lawyers.

Demirtaş ran against incumbent President Erdoğan in the 2014 presidential election and lost. However, he has remained one of the most popular political figures in Turkey. Erdoğan is the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) presidential candidate for the June 24 election.

Meanwhile, at least 13 people, including HDP district branch co-chair Hamide Coltu and Erkan Acar, Şeyhmus Keleş, Şerife Kayro, Nezihe Acar and Murat Yıldırım, who were named by the HDP to serve as polling clerks at voting stations in the June 24 elections, have been detained by police in the Artuklu district of Mardin province.

Also on Friday, Ankara police detained 10 people, including HDP Ankara provincial executive Zeyno Bayramoğlu.

On Saturday, Turkish police also detained 21 local Kurdish politicians in Karayazı district of Erzurum province ahead of critical June 24 elections. Detainees including HDP members and pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) provincial branch co-chair Muhlis Kırmacı, party officials, municipal council members and HDP voters.

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