Former HDP chairman sentenced to almost 5 years in prison

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Pro-Kurdish now-closed Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş (C), pro-Kurdish politicians Sırrı Süreyya Önder (R) and Pervin Buldan (L) give a press conference at the Ataköy Marina in İstanbul on March 18, 2013. Demirtaş was in the Kurdish delegation that visited Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Öcalan on the prison island of İmralı that day, the third such visit since peace talks between the Turkish government and Öcalan as chief of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) began previous year. Öcalan has confirmed he would call for a "historic" ceasefire on March 21, 2013 the day of the Kurdish New Year, the pro-Kurdish lawmaker told reporters in Istanbul after meeting the jailed PKK chief. AFP PHOTOS

A Turkish court on Friday sentenced former Peoples’ Democratic Party leader Selahattin Demirtaş to four years, eight months in prison on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda, Reuters reported on Friday, citing CNN Türk.

The sentence marks the first conviction for Demirtaş after spending 23 months in pretrial detention on a series of terrorism-related charges, facing a total of up to 142 years in prison, Reuters said.

In this trial, the court sentenced Demirtaş to four years, eight months for spreading terrorist propaganda in a speech in 2013, when the government was holding peace talks with Kurdish militants for a cease-fire.

During the trial Demirtaş claimed that the court acted with malicious intent and went out of its way to avoid taking their statements. “I received the court’s opinion two days ago, although according to law it should have been delivered at least seven days before the hearing,” Demirtaş said.

However, the defense’s request for additional time to prepare a statement was denied by the court on the grounds that they had been given enough time.

In response to the presiding judge’s remarks to the defense lawyer that the verdict can be appealed, Demirtaş said: “This is a comment that reflects the judge’s bias. How do you know that we are going to appeal the decision? You have already made the decision without reading the file. There’s no doubt about that. I have no trust or respect for this court.” The judge then claimed that he had been misunderstood.

Former HDP lawmaker Sırrı Süreyya Önder was also sentenced by the same court to three years, six months in prison on the same charges.

Demirtaş denied the accusations of being linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

During the June presidential election campaign, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had called Demirtaş a terrorist and claimed that he was responsible for the deaths of Kurdish civilians during unrest three years ago.

Demirtaş, a former human rights lawyer, ran against Erdoğan in the presidential election and campaigned from prison, largely through social media.

After having won votes beyond his core Kurdish constituency in previous elections, Demirtaş failed to mount a significant challenge to Erdoğan in June, winning 8.40 percent of the vote to Erdoğan’s 52.59 percent.

However, the HDP remains the second largest opposition party in Turkey’s newly restructured, 600-member parliament. Erdoğan’s ruling AKP and their Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) allies hold the majority.

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