Turkish court rejects appeal for release of jailed pro-Kurdish candidate

Selahattin Demirtaş has been in jail for a year and a half on security charges. (Reuters pic)

ANKARA: A Turkish court rejected an appeal on Monday by the pro-Kurdish opposition for the release of their jailed former leader and presidential candidate, the party said, a month before snap parliamentary and presidential elections.

Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been in jail for a year and a half on security charges and faces a jail sentence of up to 142 years if convicted, was nominated by his Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as a presidential candidate earlier this month.

Last week, the HDP applied for Demirtaş to be released before next month’s snap election, saying his detention jeopardised voter freedom.

Turkey’s High Electoral Board has approved his candidacy, and Demirtaş is running his presidential campaign from behind bars.

“We condemn this lawless decision which prevents an equal and fair election. Every day that Demirtaş, the candidate of millions, is not with his voters will cast a shadow on the June 24 elections and put into question its legitimacy,” the HDP said on Twitter.

A former human rights lawyer, Demirtaş is one of Turkey’s best-known politicians, winning votes beyond his core Kurdish constituency in 2015 elections. Prosecutors charge that he and hundreds of other detained HDP members are tied to the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The HDP denies the charge.

The HDP commands only about 10% to 12% support, but Demirtaş is still likely to draw significant backing in a first-round presidential vote against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other candidates, while also boosting the prospects of his party entering parliament.

Erdoğan last month called snap parliamentary and presidential elections for June 24, more than a year early, to switch to a powerful executive presidency narrowly approved in a referendum last year and championed by the president.

On Monday, parties entering parliamentary elections submitted their lists of potential lawmakers. Under the new system, ministers cannot be lawmakers, meaning names on the lists will only enter a cabinet if they resign their parliamentary posts.

While Erdoğan’s ruling AK Party has nominated almost all incumbent ministers as lawmakers, Turkey’s leading economic team, including Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek, Finance Minister Naci Ağbal, and Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, have been left off the list.

The HDP nominated Ahmet Şık, a prominent journalist and author who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison over terrorism charges last month, and Barış Atay, an actor and outspoken critic of Erdoğan’s policies.