Amid growing calls for the release of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş from pre-trial detention, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said Demirtaş’s release from prison is impossible because he is responsible for the deaths of 53 people during street protests in Turkey’s Southeast in 2014.
In reaction to efforts by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants to besiege Kobani, a Kurdish town in Syria, demonstrations began in Turkey’s Southeast after Demirtaş called for street protests in an attempt to support Syrian Kurdish fighters in Kobani while accusing Ankara of not giving enough help to Kobani and of supporting ISIL. The protests later morphed into fierce clashes between pro and anti-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) groups in which 53 people were killed.
Since then, Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have held Demirtaş responsible for the deaths of these people.
Speaking at an election rally in the eastern province of Adıyaman on Friday, Erdoğan said: “Who are you releasing? The person in the jail [Demirtaş] has the blood of 53 citizens on his hands.”
The president said the rule of law is observed in Turkey and that justice must be served for the death of those people.
“Was not it him [Demirtaş] who pitted citizens against each other during Oct. 6-7 [protests]?” Erdoğan asked.
Demirtaş was the HDP’s co-chairperson when he was jailed on Nov. 4, 2016 along with several other party deputies as well as the party’s other co-chairperson, Figen Yüksekdağ.
Turkey will hold snap presidential and general elections on June 24, a year and a half earlier than originally scheduled.
Demirtaş, who faces terror charges, is still in pre-trial detention and has not been convicted of any crime.
Many, including other presidential candidates, have been calling for Demirtaş’s release during the presidential campaign period so the election can take place in a democratic environment and under equal conditions for all the presidential candidates.
On May 21, an Ankara high criminal court rejected a request for the release of Demirtaş from jail in the run-up to the June 24 presidential election.
HDP Batman deputy Ayşe Acar and a group of lawyers on May 15 petitioned the Ankara 19th High Criminal Court, which is hearing Demirtaş’s trial, for his release on judicial probation during the presidential campaign. The court ruled for the continuation of the imprisonment of Demirtaş on the grounds that there were overriding reasons that prevented his release on judicial probation.
On May 29, Demirtaş’s lawyers applied to Turkey’s Constitutional Court for his release.