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Turkey court upholds conviction of jailed Kurdish leader Demirtas

Court rejects appeal by Selahattin Demirtas against conviction for terrorist propaganda despite European rights court calling for his release
Women hold pictures of Demirtas as they celebrate the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections results in June 2018 (AFP)

A Turkish court has rejected an appeal by jailed pro-Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas against his conviction for "terrorist propaganda", his lawyer said, in a fresh blow to the prominent politician considered a potential rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Demirtas, a former co-leader of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) who remains an influential and popular figure in the Kurdish movement, is facing multiple criminal proceedings and his pre-trial detention was slammed last month as politically motivated by a European rights court.

In September, he was sentenced to four years and eight months for disseminating "terror" propaganda, a ruling upheld by the court in Istanbul on Tuesday. 

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The decision, which was announced on Twitter by his lawyer Mahsuni Karaman, follows a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on 20 November that called on Turkey to release Demirtas.

Karaman said the European ruling had given Turkish authorities an opportunity to "easily rule to release [Demirtas] in the case where he remains under arrest and say, 'look we followed the ECHR decision'.

"But Demirtas will remain a hostage as the conviction to four years and eight months is confirmed."

'Limiting freedom of political debate'

Demirtas rose to prominence with a charismatic performance in the 2014 elections won by Erdogan.

The Kurdish leader ran again in June 2018, mounting an election campaign from his prison cell.

Analysts see the politician as one of the few figures in Turkey who can match Erdogan's rhetoric and could become a serious rival to the president.

The Strasbourg-based ECHR ruled that Demirtas' imprisonment had been aimed at "stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate," calling for his release from the pre-trial detention.

He has been held since November 2016 pending his trial on charges including managing a "terrorist organisation" and "inciting others to commit crimes". He could be jailed for 142 years if he is found guilty.

Erdogan, who has rejected the European court ruling, regularly accuses the HDP of being a political front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

The PKK is proscribed as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.

The HDP denies the accusations and says it is being targeted because of its opposition to the government.