Main opposition leader vows to release Kavala, Demirtaş if he comes to power

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Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has promised to release Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş and philanthropist Osman Kavala from jail if his party comes to power in the 2023 elections, Turkish media outlets reported.

Kılıçdaroğlu, who paid a visit to the southeastern province of Diyarbakır on Thursday, met with young people at a hotel in the evening. When asked whether his party would ensure the release of Demirtaş from prison if it comes to power, Kılıçdaroğlu said all the people jailed on politically motivated charges would be released from prison under his rule including Demirtaş, Kavala, journalists and military cadets.

Demirtaş was co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) when he was arrested in November 2016. He has been behind bars since then despite the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling in November 2018 that Demirtaş’s pre-trial detention was political and ordering his release. Turkish courts refused to implement the ruling, and a regional appeals court in Turkey subsequently upheld a prison sentence handed down to Demirtaş for disseminating terrorist propaganda.

Kavala, who has yet to be convicted by a court, has been in prison since 2017. Turkey and several Western countries barely avoided a diplomatic crisis after 10 ambassadors released a statement in October calling for Kavala’s release on the fourth anniversary of his arrest.

The military cadets were arrested on coup charges following a failed coup in the country in July 2016. They say they didn’t know a coup attempt was unfolding and that they were acting on orders from their superiors, who told them there was a terrorist attack.

Kılıçdaroğlu said Demirtaş committed no crime to justify his imprisonment and that the reason for his incarceration was because Demirtaş launched a political campaign prior to the June elections in 2015, telling President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “We won’t let you become president.”

Erdoğan was already president at the time under a parliamentary system. Demirtaş was referring to Erdoğan’s quest to become president under a presidential system of governance, which became possible in 2018 as Turkey made a change in system through a referendum in 2017.

Kılıçdaroğlu has recently been making efforts to reach out to Kurdish voters and win their support.

During his Diyarbakır visit, he pledged to bring peace to the country at any cost by resolving the long-standing Kurdish issue.

The Kurdish issue, a term prevalent in Turkey’s public discourse, refers to the demand for equal rights by the country’s Kurdish population and their struggle for recognition.

In late January Kılıçdaroğlu said real democracy can only be established in the country by settling the Kurdish issue. “If democracy is to be [really] established in this country … the way to do it is through Diyarbakır,” Kılıçdaroğlu had said, signaling new efforts to settle the country’s long-standing problem.

In a move that brought him appreciation, Kılıçdaroğlu also promised last November to acknowledge the injustices of the current and previous governments and to make amends for the suffering they caused various segments of society if his party comes to power in the 2023 elections.

Turkey will hold parliamentary and presidential elections in 2023. It is not yet clear if Kılıçdaroğlu will run for president, but he voiced his intention to run if the alliance his party is part of approves his nomination.

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