Photo courtesy of Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s Twitter account
CAIRO – 9 July 2017: “We walk for a Turkey in which beliefs, ethnicity and lifestyle do not become a reason for discrimination and punishment. We walk for a Turkey in which heads are held high and minds are without fear,” Turkey's main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Friday, as he approached the end of a mammoth 450-kilometer protest march across Turkey to demand justice.
Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens have joined the mass rally around Turkey since June 15, protesting the arrest of Enis Berberoglu, a member of the parliament from Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party, whose arrest Kilicdaroglu stated was “the last straw in a series of antidemocratic moves by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”
“Each mile of this long march for justice has buoyed my hopes. I am certain that the people of Turkey will reinstate democracy and justice will return to my country,” the opposition leader wrote.
Kilicdaroglu has led the Justice March for almost a month, starting from Ankara, and gathering over 40,000 supporters, who chanted all day long, “Hak, hukuk, adalet” – rights, law and justice. He reached Istanbul on Sunday, where he addressed a huge rally, promising to bring democracy to the country.
The mass rally announced a set of demands, including lifting the state of emergency, restoring democracy and independent judiciary, ensuring fair trials for detainees and immediately freeing all imprisoned journalists and academics in Turkey.
No party flags or slogans were allowed during the march; only a simple insignia emblazoned with the word “Justice” and pictures of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk were carried throughout the protests.
While supporters have compared the justice rally to the famous Salt March led by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi in 1930, the Turkish government has addressed it with contempt and accused Kilicdaroglu of siding with terrorism. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Friday that the march “has started to become boring.”
"They ask 'Can we seek justice on the road?' Yes we can. If there are grave injustices and illegalities in your country and if your country's courts are incapable of delivering justice, you will stand up and hit the road," Kilicdaroglu said in a statement to AFP on Sunday.
About 50,000 people have been arrested under Turkey's state of emergency imposed after July 2016’s failed coup, AFP reported, adding that around 100,000 have lost their jobs.
In an op-ed published in The Guardian on Thursday, Kilicdaroglu strongly condemned the measures taken by the Turkish government following the coup attempt, including the state of emergency and suspension the rule of law and parliamentary democracy, as well as the “government-sponsored referendum” in April, which was used to “consolidate the one man authoritarian rule” through changes to Turkey’s constitution.
“Injustice, arbitrariness and discrimination have become defining features of the AKP regime. That is why we are demanding justice first,” he wrote.
"This march does not end here. This is just the beginning," Kilicdaroglu spoke loudly as he addressed a mass rally in Istanbul at the end of the 25 days march for justice on Sunday.