Pro-Kurdish Turkish Party Demands Release of Jailed Presidential Candidate

co-leader of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas speaks during an interview on July 22, 2016 in Ankara. / AFP / ADEM ALTAN (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

Lawyers of the imprisoned presidential candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, appealed to an Ankara court this week for his release in time for the June 24 elections.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for elections almost a year ahead of schedule.

“Our appeal for release today is not a particular demand for Demirtaş’s individual freedom. This demand is the demand of millions of voters who support him. These millions want Demirtaş to be in the field with them, living the election period with them,” Mahsuni Karaman, a lawyer for the candidate, declared on May 15 before Ankara’s 19th High Criminal Court, according to Hurriyet Daily News.

“Our appeal today goes beyond a simple request for release. It is a serious demand for Turkey’s democracy. We expect the Ankara court to make its decision within a couple of days,” he added.

His comments came on Tuesday as Prime Minister Theresa May warned Erdogan not to “lose sight” of democratic values as he castigates alleged participants in the failed 2016 coup attempt, Reuters noted.

May’s detractors have reportedly accused her “of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in pursuit of trade deals after Brexit.”

Candidate Selahattin Demirtaş has been in pre-trial detention since November 2016 on charges of links to U.S.- and Turkey-designated terrorist group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

HDP is the second-largest opposition party in Turkey’s Parliament.

Erdogan began cracking down on the Kurdish political movement in the wake of the failed coup of 2016, a move that led to the detention of at least 5,000 members of the HDP, including an estimated 80 mayors, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported.

Hurriyet noted:

Demirtaş’s lawyers appealed to the Ankara 19th High Criminal Court on May 15 demanding his release, stating that Turkey’s constitution and European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) legislation stipulates the “right to a free election.”

Demirtaş was presented as the HDP’s presidential candidate for the upcoming elections to be held on [June 24], and Supreme Board of Elections (YSK) officially approved his candidacy with an announcement on May 13.

The candidate has vowed to end Erdogan’s 15-year rule in an HDP manifesto for the June 24 elections released at a meeting in Ankara on Monday, the Stockholm Center for Freedom pointed out.

Demirtaş promised in the manifesto:

We are the voice of not monism but pluralism. We say we are here against a regime that declares everyone not on its side a criminal and works solely for its own existence. We are at the turning point of ending a 16-year-old destruction at the ballot box! Hand to hand for a new beginning, we will change the monist, repressive, robbing, discriminative and aggressive one-man rule with YOU.

Demirtaş’s lawyers have repeatedly applied for the release of the presidential candidate, to no avail. The war between Turkish security forces and the PKK has killed more than 40,000 people.

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