Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), warned the Turkish government against outlawing the party in an interview with BBC’s Turkish edition published on Monday and called on the opposition parties to establish an alliance.
Demirtaş warned the government about the consequences of the possible closure of the HDP, adding that he hoped the debates surrounding the banning the HDP would end “forever.”
“The discussion itself of closing the HDP harms the very fabric of society,” he said.
Demirtaş has been behind bars for five years on terrorism charges despite a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that found Turkey guilty of violating his rights.
He answered the BBC’s questions from Edirne Prison, where he has been incarcerated since November 2016, through his lawyers.
The HDP is the third-largest party in the Turkish parliament, and many analysts see the pro-minority party as a key player in a general election to beat Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been ruling the country since 2002.
In November Erdoğan called Demirtaş a terrorist, and in January the chairman of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a key ally of Erdoğan, urged Turkey’s top prosecutor’s office to pursue the closure of the HDP.
The chief prosecutor’s office of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals launched a probe into the HDP in March.
“Closing the HDP is wrong and useless,” added Demirtaş, calling the AKP desperate.
“One party’s attempt to close its rival [party] in a bid to increase its votes or win an election shows a lack of competence and is shameful.”
In the June 2015 elections, Erdoğan’s ruling AKP lost its governing majority for the first time when the HDP passed the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament under the co-leadership of Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ.
Erdoğan subsequently ended a peace process between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group that has waged a three-decade-long war in southeastern Turkey, and the Turkish state.
The ruling AKP and its nationalist ally pushed for a snap election in November 2015 amid clashes with the PKK, and mass media propaganda accused the HDP of supporting the Kurdish fighters.
New elections restored to Erdoğan almost 9 percent of the votes he had lost four months earlier, garnering 49.8 percent of the vote with the help of a nationalist wave among the public simultaneous with the security operations.
Almost a year later, following an abortive coup in 2016, Erdoğan put the former co-chairs of the HDP behind bars.
Demirtaş said it wouldn’t be the HDP that would lose in the event of its closure, implying that it would harm the country as a whole.
The imprisoned politician reiterated his call to the opposition parties to establish an alliance to improve Turkey’s democracy.
He suggested that the HDP and opposition Good (İYİ) Party run by Turkish nationalists establish a dialogue based on democratic rules and mutual constructive criticism.
The politician also criticized some İYİ Party members for their “fascist rhetoric” and accused them of destroying the dialogue and attempts at solution.
Demirtaş praised the peace attempts between Turkey and the PKK in 2013-2015, a process that took place publicly and with contributions by various groups, including artists, singers and human rights activists.
Before that, the Turkish intelligence agency and some PKK leaders conducted secret negotiations in Oslo in 2010, allegedly under the supervision of some “foreign” actors, which yielded no results.
Answering a question about his preference between the Oslo meetings and the peace process, Demirtaş pointed to the latter, asserting that local actors should seek a solution within the country on a legal basis.
“This is the right thing to do,” he said.