Jailed presidential runner Demirtaş says fair elections 'impossible under state of emergency'

Jailed presidential runner Demirtaş says fair elections 'impossible under state of emergency'

ANKARA - Reuters
Jailed presidential runner Demirtaş says fair elections impossible under state of emergency

Former co-chair of Turkey's Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) challenged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from behind prison bars and said a fair vote in next month's election was impossible under the state of emergency.

In his first interview with international media since being amed as candidate by HDP on May 4, Selahattin Demirtaş told Reuters opposition parties will face huge obstacles campaigning for votes.

"Demonstrations are banned, talking is banned, criticising the government is banned, even defending peace is considered terror propaganda," he said.

"Hundreds of opposition journalists are arrested, dozens of TV and radio channels are closed. It is impossible for there to be fair elections in such an environment," Demirtaş said in a hand-written response to questions submitted by Reuters to his lawyers.

Demirtaş and the HDP face even greater challenges than other opposition parties in running against Erdoğan and his longtime-ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Demirtaş has been in jail for a year and a half on security charges and faces up to 142 years in prison if convicted.

Announcing his candidacy on May 4, the party released images of a visibly thinner yet smiling Demirtaş dressed in a white shirt and black trousers in the courtyard of his prison in the northwestern province of Edirne.

A human rights lawyer by training, he is one of Turkey's best-known politicians, winning votes beyond his core Kurdish constituency in the 2015 election to turn the HDP into the second-largest opposition party in parliament.

Now, he faces terror charges.

Prosecutors charge that Demirtaş and hundreds of other detained HDP members are tied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The HDP denies the charges and Demirtaş said he was unjustly jailed. 

"There is no legal obstacle to my candidacy because I am not convicted," he said, adding it would be a "scandal and a crime" if the courts blocked him by convicting him.

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