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Leading Kurdish politician convicted

(BIANET/IFEX) - The Co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Selahattin Demirtas, has been convicted of "propaganda for an illegal organization" and handed a 10-month prison sentence.

Demirtas, former Diyarbakir branch president of the Human Rights Foundation, was punished for a statement he made about the detention conditions of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party. Ocalan has been imprisoned on Imrali Island, in the Sea of Marmara, since 1999.

In the hearing on 28 September 2010, the Diyarbakir High Criminal Court initially handed down a one-year prison sentence which was then mitigated to 10 months. Additionally, the court decided on a suspension of the sentence, on probation, for five years.

Demirtas did not attend the hearing and was represented by his lawyer Meral Danis Bestas. Bestas claimed that her client's statement should be evaluated within the scope of freedom of thought and expression. Demirtas had previously been convicted of "praising crime and a criminal" and received a prison sentence of one year and three months. The Court of Appeal reversed the decision and requested Demirtas' prosecution over charges of "propaganda for an illegal organization".

Despite Demirtas' parliamentary immunity, the Court of Appeals decided on the continuation of the trial under terror charges. The court referred to Article 14 of the Constitution stipulating, "None of the rights and freedoms embodied in the Constitution shall be exercised with the aim of violating the indivisible integrity of the state with its territory and nation, and endangering the existence of the democratic and secular order of the Turkish Republic based upon human rights".

Bestas criticized the decision: "This is a disgrace of the law. Taking into consideration the political party of the defendant, the people and the thoughts he represented and his thoughts on the Kurdish question, this decision is not based on any legal argument".

Demirtas was prosecuted on the grounds of conveying certain messages in an on-air statement he made about "tension created by war and isolation increasing the number of violations", broadcast on Roj TV on 7 February 2003.

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