Jailed pro-Kurdish presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas delivered a campaign speech from his cell in Turkey on Wednesday, following Ankara’s rejection of a request to free him to allow him to campaign. He delivered the speech via a telephone call to his wife.
Demirtas was arrested for allegedly aiding terrorism through the advocacy of Kurdish rights. The Turkish government identifies the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization; it accuses Demirtas of supporting the PKK.
Video of Demirtas’ phone call to his wife Basak was later broadcast on Twitter, according to the Associated Press.
Demirtas is challenging President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose popularity has dwindled since he declared a reelection victory in a referendum vote in April 2017.
The election will take place on June 24.
Demirtas, 45, previously worked as a human rights lawyer and is the former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). He was arrested in 2016 for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants and faces a 142-year sentence on charges of leading a terror organization and other crimes. He reportedly denies any wrongdoing.
Breitbart News reported that “Demirtaş was arrested along with fellow HDP co-chair Figen Yuksekdag in November after ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) legislators voted to strip them both – and other HDP members – of legislative immunity.”
According to the AFP, the HDP produced a video of Demirtas’s message to his wife, which begins with Basak’s wife’s phone ringing and when she answers, he says, “Hello my darling, how are you?” before he begins his campaign speech.
“Sadly, Turkey has been transformed into a semi-open prison,” Demirtas said in his prison cell speech. “They are trying to create a society based on fear and reign though fear.”
Turkey reportedly has a significant track record of egregious human rights practices and, under Erdogan, there has been a severe crackdown on the free press and journalists.
Over the course of 2017, Turkey has imprisoned the highest number of journalists anywhere in the world.
Erdogan’s administration has a track record of jailing political dissidents and has gone as far as arresting two 12-year-old and 13-year-old cousins for tearing down posters of him. Erdogan’s government has also been accused by several human rights activists of employing “rape” to punish and threaten political detractors, including journalists who are critical of his government.
In March, the owner of Doğan Media Group, one of Turkey’s remaining media outlets that does not openly support Erdogan, sold the group to Demirören Holding, owned by a businessman who is friends with the president.
In his jail cell campaign speech, Demirtas reportedly described himself as a “political prisoner,” devoid of the right to a fair trial, and said “anti-democratic practices” had turned Turkey into one of the most “unhappy and pessimistic” societies in the region.
Demirtas was against the Turkish constitutional referendum of 2017. The referendum vote was meant to expand President Erdogan’s powers by switching the government from a parliamentary system to a presidential system, but not imposing the proper checks on the presidency that exists in systems like that of the United States. Part of Demirtas’ campaign includes more rights for women and minorities. In a 2014 interview, Demirtas said he is against capitalism.
According to the AFP, “Erdogan has in recent days upped his campaign attacks on Demirtas, accusing him of being a “terrorist” responsible for the deaths of dozens by calling protests in October 2014 that turned violent.”