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Turkey: Top court upholds prison sentence for prominent opposition figure

An outspoken critic of President Erdogan, Canan Kaftancioglu of the Republican People's Party (CHP) faces a nearly five-year prison term
Turkey's top court on Thursday upheld a prison sentence for Canan Kaftancioglu, head of the Istanbul branch of Turkey's main opposition party CHP, seen here on 6 September, 2019 (AFP)
Turkey's top court on Thursday upheld a prison sentence for Canan Kaftancioglu, head of the Istanbul branch of Turkey's main opposition party CHP, seen here on 6 September 2019 (AFP)

Turkey's supreme court of appeals on Thursday upheld a prison sentence for the head of the Istanbul branch of the country's main opposition party, in a move seen as another crackdown on opponents ahead of next year's presidential election.

The top court on Thursday approved the conviction of Canan Kaftancioglu, of the secular Republican People's Party (CHP), on three counts with a prison term of four years, 11 months, and 20 days. 

It was not immediately clear if the ruling means Kaftancioglu, 50, will be jailed right away. 

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The CHP is the second-largest party in the Turkish parliament, holding 135 seats. 

In 2019, Kaftancioglu was sentenced to nearly 10 years in jail on a range of charges including "terrorist propaganda" and insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

The charges related mostly to tweets Kaftancioglu posted between 2012 and 2017. She had been free pending the appeals. 

Among the tweets used by the prosecution against Kaftancioglu, was one in which she criticised the death of a 14-year-old boy hit by a tear gas grenade during the mass "Gezi Park" protests of 2013. 

Driving force of opposition

Kaftancioglu, a doctor by profession, played a key role in the shock victory of the CHP's Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu in 2019 - the first time Erdogan's party had lost power in Turkey’s biggest city for 25 years.

Kaftancioglu "is my comrade with whom we are striding together to change Istanbul," Imamoglu stated on Twitter.  "I find this decision political and condemn it. I stand by our chairwoman.”

Shortly after the Thursday court ruling, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu called on his lawmakers to head to the party's Istanbul headquarters.

"All lawmakers of our party immediately set off for our Istanbul provincial headquarters," he tweeted.

Rights groups regularly accuse Erdogan of using the judiciary as a political tool, particularly after thousands of judges were purged in the wake of an attempted coup in 2016. 

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Erdogan railed against Kaftancioglu after she was appointed to the Istanbul chair in 2016. 

"Erdogan doubles down on suppression as (he) loses ground amid growing economic pressure in the country," Seren Selvin Korkmaz of Istanbul-based think tank IstanPol Institute commented on Twitter.

"#Kaftancioglu is a rising figure within the #CHP and frequent government target ... The (ruling AKP party) tries to take revenge of losing Istanbul by sending her to prison.”

Kaftancioglu vowed not to give in when she was convicted in 2019.

"They think they can scare us but we will continue to speak," she said back then. 

On Thursday, Kaftancioglu posted a video calling for her supporters not to give up hope and continue to work “wherever we are”.

The latest ruling comes on the heels of a life sentence handed by an Istanbul court to another Erdogan critic and activist, Osman Kavala, last month. 

A leading figure in Turkey’s civil society, the 64-year-old Kavala was accused of attempting to topple Erdogan's government by financing the 2013 protests.