Former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been jailed for nearly four years, says that his imprisonment is the result of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s fear of himself and his party’s political power.
“I’m not a prisoner, I’m a political hostage. I clearly know that Erdoğan fears me, that is why he keeps me here,” Demirtaş told news portal T24.
“But I and others like me can’t be confined by four walls, that’s what they don’t understand, because we are not anyone’s man, we are the children of the people,” he added.
Demirtaş has been jailed on a litany of terror charges which critics say are baseless and rooted in an attempt to annihilate the pro-Kurdish political movement. While arrests of prominent HDP officials have risen, including a recent operation in which a number of the party’s politicians were arrested, 20,000 party members have been arrested since 2009, according to Demirtaş.
“Therefore, the timing of the last political operation is not meaningful. It is only the latest of the AKP’s relentless attacks geared toward liquidating the HDP. Of course, it features more prominently on the agenda when those who are arrested are publicly known. Otherwise, dozens of HDP members are jailed illegally nearly every week,” Demirtaş said.
The recent arrests of the HDP politicians, including sacked mayor Ayhan Bilgen of the eastern province of Kars, who was well-liked and respected among his constituents across party lines, have raised the question as to whether or not Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are ultimately seeking to close down the party.
Many pro-Kurdish parties have been shut down in the past, and the 10 percent threshold for entering parliament has been described as a mechanism to keep those parties out of politics.
“Today, the HDP has more than seven million voters. I don’t think that they will shut all of them down. The people would establish their own party and move on stronger. HDP voters do not give up on democratic politics or the struggle for democracy,” Demirtaş said.
“But those who think of closing [the party] will pay a great price politically and legally in the future. In the next elections the people will make them pay a heavy price,” he added.
Turkey’s opposition parties handed Erdoğan and the AKP massive defeats in the local elections last year via an alliance between the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the right-wing Good (İYİ) Party with the unofficial backing of the HDP, secured victories in most of the country’s major cities. However, the parties have had difficulties forming a solid and united block against the AKP. Demirtaş voiced his support for a democratic block as a political alternative.
“The sooner a democratic block is established, the destruction caused by the AKP-[far-right Nationalist Movement Party] MHP coalition and the pressure on the government regarding the elections will increase. More importantly, a serious and realistic alternative would be offered to society, and hope and courage would increase,” Demirtaş said.