Turkish minister says pro-Kurdish candidate belongs in jail

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Tuesday that Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed pro-Kurdish opposition candidate in June 24 presidential elections, fitted the perfect profile of a prison inmate, independent news site t24 reported.

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) candidate Demirtaş has been held in detention for 18 months, facing a string of terrorism-related charges. The government says the HDP, which came third in the last general elections in 2015, is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy within Turkey since 1984.

“If not that person who caused the death of 53 people with one order, then who is to be placed behind bars? Can someone explain this to me?” Soylu asked, in an apparent reference to Demirtaş’s call for protests in October of 2014 against what many Kurds saw as Turkish support for Islamic State militants attacking the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani. A total of 53 protesters were killed in clashes with the police.

Soylu’s comments come as members of Turkey’s opposition, particularly the HDP, are calling for Demirtaş to be released from prison ahead of the June 24 elections.

“They are trying to appear cute to the West,” Soylu said.

Demirtaş, the former co-chair of HDP, received 9.76 percent of the vote in the 2014 presidential election.