Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been in pretrial detention since November 2016, addressed the Turkish people in a speech delivered from prison via a telephone call he made to his wife, Başak, on Wednesday.
“Good morning, everyone. I think this is the first time in the world that a presidential candidate will deliver a campaign speech from prison. I will address you from the social media accounts of the HDP at 11 a.m. today. See you later,” a message said from Demirtaş’s Twitter account, which was posted by his lawyers.
Turkey will hold snap presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24.
A video clip posted on the social media accounts of the HDP shows Başak Demirtaş in her house welcoming family members, including her husband’s parents.
Then, Demirtaş calls his wife and begins delivering his 10-minute-long campaign speech.
In his speech the former HDP co-chairperson said he has been unlawfully kept in prison for 20 months like a political hostage and that no fair trial is taking place for him and other jailed HDP officials because there is pressure on the courts to keep them in jail.
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.
The HDP presidential candidate said he is only one of the many people in Turkey who are being victimized by the lack of justice, adding that the country has been turned into a semi-open prison by the government.
More than 50,000 people have been jailed, while more than 150,000 others have been removed from state jobs in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.
“They [the government] want to create a society of fear, an empire of fear, with this [jailing of people]. Yet, the job of the state is not to intimidate its citizens but to be their servant. But the anti-democratic practices over the past years have turned the people of Turkey into the unhappiest and most pessimistic people in the world… None of us deserves such an administration,” said Demirtaş.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and its leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have attracted widespread criticism for establishing one-man rule in the country, curbing free speech and destroying the separation of powers.
Demirtaş said the people of Turkey can build the democratic Turkey of the future and a new, happy and free life by working hand-in-hand.
If he is elected to the top state post, the HDP presidential candidate said his administration will not discriminate against people based on their identity, religious sect or gender and will make democracy and the rule of law fully dominate the state.
“We will fully benefit from our fertile soil, seas, historic and cultural heritage. We will not invest in concrete and unnecessary construction but in soil, effort, labor, production and science, and we will definitely defeat this poverty,” said Demirtaş.
The AKP government is also heavily criticized for destroying Turkey’s forests and green spaces and replacing them with concrete buildings and enriching pro-government companies by awarding them state tenders.
Demirtaş said every vote is crucial in the June 24 elections and has the potential to change many things.
“Demirtaş is you, not the one being kept in a cell in Edirne. Trust yourself. Honor yourself. Give your vote to yourself. Give one vote to the HDP and one vote to Demirtaş,” he said.
Many, including his rivals Muharrem 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.
However, a request for the release of Demirtaş from jail in the run-up to the June 24 presidential election was rejected by an Ankara high criminal court on May 21.
On May 29, Demirtaş’s lawyers applied to Turkey’s Constitutional Court for his release.
Demirtaş ran against Erdoğan in the 2014 presidential election and lost. However, he has remained one of the most popular political figures in Turkey.