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Turkey court orders Kurdish leader to remain in custody

AFP , Thursday 13 Dec 2018
People arrive at the courthouse in Ankara to attend the hearing of the pro-Kurdish party Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) former co-leader Selahattin Demirtas, on December 12, 2018 (Photo: AFP)
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A Turkish court on Thursday ordered the continued detention of Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas despite a European rights court ruling calling for his release, an official from his political party said.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last month lambasted the pre-trial detention of Demirtas, former co-chief of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), as politically motivated.

Demirtas had previously run against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and has been viewed as a potential rival.

The 45-year-old remains an influential figure in the Kurdish movement.

"He (Demirtas) will be kept behind bars," a HDP official, who did not wish to be named, told AFP after the hearing on Thursday.

Demirtas has been in pre-trial detention since November 2016, accused of managing a "terrorist organisation", making "terrorist propaganda" and "inciting others to commit crimes". He risks up to 142 years in jail if he is found guilty.

During the hearing on Wednesday, Demirtas denounced what he considered a "political trial" and said he was a "political hostage".

Erdogan regularly accuses the HDP of being a political front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency since 1984 and is considered a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

But even if Demirtas was released on Thursday, he would have to remain in jail since he has been sentenced to four years and eight months for "terrorist propaganda" in another case.

A Turkish court upheld the conviction on December 4 after his lawyers made an appeal.

Ramazan Demir, a lawyer for Demirtas, told AFP that the decision to keep him in detention after the ECHR called for the politician to be released was a "legal scandal".

"It is in defiance of the ECHR," Demir added.

The trial will resume on January 23-25, the official said.

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