Jailed Kurdish leader Demirtas makes campaign speech from prison cell through wife’s phone

HDP's jailed former Co-chair Selahattin Demirtas

Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed presidential candidate from the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), reached out to voters through his wife’s phone on June 6, holding a campaign “rally” from his prison cell in the northeastern province of Edirne.

Demirtaş on June 6 issued his first, and possibly only, audio message of the campaign, using the weekly 10-minute telephone call he is permitted to make to his wife Başak.

To distribute the speech, the HDP produced a slick video of the message, which begins with Başak Demirtaş welcoming family members to their home in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. Her mobile then rings and she puts it on loudspeaker.

“Hello my darling, how are you?” she says, and after some brief pleasantries Demirtaş makes a campaign speech of around five minutes.

“Sadly, Turkey has been transformed into a semi-open prison. They are trying to create a society based on fear and trying to reign though fear,” he declares.

Speaking confidently and without interruption from an apparently prepared text, Demirtaş describes himself as a “political hostage” but also urges optimism among the HDP faithful.

“Demirtaş is not the man who is in a cell in Edirne. It is you. Have confidence in yourselves,” he says.

“I am lucky, I must be the only candidate who is able to do election campaigning via his wife on the phone,” he adds.

At the end of his address, the family members, who have been sitting in respectful silence, erupt into applause, chanting “Selo [a short form of Selahattin] for president.”

Demirtaş has been in jail for a year-and-a-half on a variety of charges in a number of cases, and he faces a jail sentence of up to 142 years if convicted.

He was nominated by the HDP as its presidential candidate earlier this month and is running for the presidency from his prison cell despite a Turkish court’s rejection of an appeal on May 21 for his release.

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

The HDP is the second-largest opposition party in the Turkish Parliament.

Another of the party’s former co-chairs, Figen Yüksekdağ, is also arrested on charges of “making terrorist propaganda” and “being a member of a terrorist organization.”

Meanwhile, Muharrem İnce, the presidential candidate from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and Meral Akşener, the founder of and candidate from the recently-founded İYİ (Good) Party, have both called on the Erdoğan government for Demirtaş’s release.

İnce also visited the HDP candidate in Edirne Prison on May 9.

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