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Terrorist attacks would stop if jailed Kurdish leader Demirtaş were released: former CHP chairman

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Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the former leader of Turkey’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), said Tuesday that terrorism would end if imprisoned Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş were freed.

Demirtaş has been jailed since November 2016 on bogus terrorism-related charges and not released from prison despite rulings from the European Court of Human Rights.

Kılıçdaroğlu made the comments after visiting Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, the former mayor of Diyarbakır, in prison.

An Ankara court recently sentenced 24 HDP politicians, among them Demirtaş, for their alleged roles in deadly protests in 2014 to prison terms ranging from nine to 42 years, while acquitting 12 other politicians who had stood trial with them.

The trial, which lasted nearly three years, centered on the events of October 6-8, 2014, when ISIL laid siege to Kobani. Protests erupted across Turkey, particularly in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern provinces, resulting in 37 deaths. There were 108 defendants in the trial including former HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ.

The Turkish government accused the HDP leaders of inciting the violence, while the defendants maintained that their calls for solidarity with Kobani were within the bounds of freedom of expression.

“Mr. Demirtaş is a pioneer of civil politics,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. “He wants everyone in Turkey to live in peace and happiness. I don’t find it right that he is in prison.”

Kılıçdaroğlu stressed the importance of freedom of expression and opposed imprisonment for political thought. He also highlighted the need for a new political discourse in Turkey that would allow all citizens to express their views freely and live in peace.

In 2016 the CHP, led by Kılıçdaroğlu, supported a bill to remove parliamentary immunity, allowing the arrest of several HDP deputies, including former co-chair Demirtaş.

Critics have long accused the CHP of politicizing within the red lines set by President Erdoğan and not putting up strong resistance that could challenge the president’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

They claim that the CHP does not oppose the AKP’s policies when it comes to groups systematically targeted by the state apparatus, such as Kurds.

Kılıçdaroğlu said the issue of his 2016 decision did not come up during the visit.

The visit also touched on the broader issues in Turkish politics, including concerns about the exodus of young people from the country and the need for democratization. Kılıçdaroğlu argued that as long as authoritarian structures persist, normalization in Turkey cannot occur.

“If Mr. Demirtaş were outside, civil politics would advance significantly, and I am sure terrorist incidents would end,” Kılıçdaroğlu added. “That’s why I believe it’s wrong for him to be in prison.”

Kurdish politicians who have been under intense pressure from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration. Following the failure of peace talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2015, the government adopted a more nationalist and anti-Kurdish stance.

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