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Turkey Rejects Pro-Kurdish Party Appeal to Release Jailed Presidential Candidate

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - 2016/11/17: A Kurdish protester holds up a banner for Demirtas at a Kurdish march in Brussels against Turkeys policy. (Photo by Frederik Sadones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Frederik Sadones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

An Ankara court turned down an appeal this week from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to release its jailed presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş, in time for Turkey’s snap elections in June.

“We condemn this lawless decision which prevents an equal and fair election. Every day that Demirtaş, the candidate of millions, is not with his voters will cast a shadow on the June 24 elections and put into question its legitimacy,” the HDP declared on Twitter, according to Reuters.

Citing the HDP, Hurriyet Daily News reports that the Turkish court turned down the party’s request on Monday, adding:

Demirtaş, who has been in jail for a year and a half on security charges and faces a jail sentence of up to 142 years if convicted, was nominated by the HDP as a presidential candidate earlier this month. Last week, the HDP applied for Demirtaş’s release before next month’s [June 24] snap election, saying his detention jeopardized voter freedom.

Turkey’s High Electoral Board has approved his candidacy, and Demirtaş is running his presidential campaign from behind bars.

The administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called for presidential elections almost a year ahead of schedule, has accused Demirtaş and many other HDP members of being affiliated with the terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

Demirtaş has been in pre-trial detention since November 2016 on charges of links to the PKK. HDP is the second-largest opposition party in Turkey. 

Erdogan intensified his administration’s crackdown on the Kurdish political movement in the wake of the 2016 failed coup, which has triggered the detention of at least 5,000 members of the HDP, including an estimated 80 mayors, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reports.

Demirtaş has pledged to end what he describes as Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.

In a recently released manifesto, the HDP candidate vowed:

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 made repeated attempts to release him but have failed.

Reuters notes:

The HDP commands only about 10 to 12 percent support, but Demirtas is still likely to draw significant backing in a first- round presidential vote against President Tayyip Erdogan and other candidates, while also boosting the prospects of his party entering parliament.

Erdogan last month called snap parliamentary and presidential elections for June 24, more than a year early, to switch to a powerful executive presidency narrowly approved in a referendum last year and championed by the president.

The war between Ankara and the PKK has killed more than 40,000 people.

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