Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition leader handed four-year jail term over 'terror propaganda'
A Turkish court on Friday handed the former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas, who ran for the presidency this year, a four year and eight month prison sentence for making so-called terror propaganda.
Demirtas, who has been behind bars since November 2016 on charges of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was convicted of making propaganda for Kurdish militants, the HDP said.
The court in Silivri outside Istanbul also sentenced former HDP lawmaker Sirri Sureyya Onder to three years and six months for the same charge.
They were sentenced over speeches they had made during the New Year festival of Newroz in March 2013, a HDP official told AFP.
"Because they defended peace, they were... sentenced to jail," the HDP said on Twitter.
The conviction comes after Demirtas was sentenced by a court in February 2017 to five months in jail for denigrating the Turkish state and its institutions.
Dubbed the "Kurdish Obama" for his charisma and left-leaning politics, Demirtas' prolonged pre-trial jail time was harshly criticised by rights groups, along with the political motivations behind his alledly trumped up charges.
Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia director said: “The evidence against Selahattin Demirtas consists largely of his political speeches and lacks any compelling evidence of criminal activity”.
“It’s hard to conclude otherwise than that the case against him is the Turkish government’s politically motivated attempt to undermine the parliamentary opposition,” he added, in a report published in December 2017.
|The case against him is the Turkish government’s politically motivated attempt to undermine the parliamentary opposition - HRW
Demirtas' detention meant he could not campaign in person during the Turkish presidential elections this year, however he still came third in the polls with 8.4 percent of the vote.
Demirtas is currently being held at a prison in Edirne, in northwest Turkey, from where he campaigned as HDP's presidential candidate.
Demirtas was defiant after the court's ruling in a message shared by his party on Twitter: "We will not take a step back, we will continue to defend peace."
Demirtas has dozens of court cases hanging over him and in another case over alleged links to the PKK, he risks up to 142 years in jail if found guilty.
The HDP is the second main opposition party in Turkey with 67 MPs and became the first pro-Kurdish party to enter parliament in June 2015.
Over a dozen lawmakers had been detained in 2016 and 2017 over alleged links to the PKK, in what supporters say is punishment for daring to oppose Erdogan.
The Turkish government accuses the HDP of merely being the political wing of the PKK, which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984. The HDP denies this.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.
Since the collapse of a two-year ceasefire in 2015, violence has resumed and Ankara has conducted several military operations against the PKK.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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