Jailed Kurdish leader laments 'unfairness' of Turkey polls

Ankara (AFP) –


Turkey's jailed former pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtas lambasted the "unfairness" of his campaign conditions for June elections but said he was ready to rally voters from prison.

Demirtas, the charismatic ex-chief of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), is running against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the June 24 polls despite being held in jail for the last one-and-a-half years.

He previously ran against Erdogan in August 2014 -- winning nearly 10 percent of votes -- and led the HDP into parliament for the first time in June 2015.

Demirtas said in written responses to AFP questions delivered via his lawyers that he was forced to campaign from his cell, in marked contrast to Erdogan who has the state resources at his disposal.

"This creates absolute injustice and unfairness," he said.

He said the authorities "will be able to ban every gathering, news, media channels they want using the state of emergency" implemented after the 2016 failed coup.

But Demirtas vowed he "will try to campaign from a cell" and send messages from prison to support the campaign.

His comments were made before the party launched its manifesto on Monday in Ankara, where Demirtas vowed he would immediately lift the state of emergency if elected.

Turkey has already come under heavy criticism from its Western allies and activists over the state of emergency, with the United Nations rights chief saying last week the upcoming elections would not be "credible".

- 'Not deaf to expectations' -

Demirtas was first jailed alongside 11 other HDP lawmakers including Demirtas' then co-chief, Figen Yuksekdag, in November 2016 over alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The PKK has waged a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey since 1984 and is blacklisted as a terror organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.

Since then the HDP has come under intense pressure and thousands of its members have been detained over suspected terror links.

A total of 11 HDP lawmakers have been stripped of their MP status, including Yuksekdag, while nine MPs remain in jail.

Ankara claims the HDP is a political front for the PKK but the party says that it is being targeted because of its strong opposition to Erdogan.

Following the June polls, Turkey's parliamentary system will transform into an executive presidency after constitutional changes expanding the president's powers were approved in a referendum in April 2017.

Demirtas in January had signalled an end to his political career. But he told AFP his party wanted him to run and he "could not be deaf to (their) expectations".