Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a Sunday rally criticized jailed Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş, saying he would have approved reinstatement of capital punishment had parliament passed such legislation in response to the crowd calling for Demirtaş’s execution, the T24 news website reported.
Erdoğan accuses Demirtaş of responsibility for the deaths of 53 people during street protests in 2014.
“This man [Demirtaş] is under arrest now? Yes, that’s all. Indeed, the judiciary must make its decision as soon as possible,” Erdoğan told a crowd during an election rally in Kocaeli on Sunday.
Supporters responded to Erdoğan by chanting “Execution! Execution!”
“As I said before, if parliament has had voted to bring back the death penalty, I would have approved it immediately,” Erdoğan replied.
Refusing calls for Demirtaş’s release to enable a fair presidential election, Erdoğan in the eastern province of Adıyaman said on June 1: “Who are you releasing? The person in jail [Demirtaş] has the blood of 53 citizens on his hands.”
Demonstrations began in Turkey’s Southeast in reaction to efforts by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants to besiege Kobani, a Kurdish town in Syria. The protests later morphed into fierce clashes between pro and anti-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) groups in which 53 people were killed.
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.