Selahattin Demirtas sentenced to 4 years prison in Turkey

Former head of the HDP party had been jailed for almost two years while on trial for a series of terrorism-related charges.

ANKARA - A Turkish court on Friday sentenced the former head of the pro-Kurdish opposition to more than four years in jail on terrorism charges, broadcaster CNN Turk said, marking the first conviction for Selahattin Demirtas after 23 months in prison.

Demirtas, one of Turkey's best-known politicians, has been jailed for almost two years while on trial for a series of terrorism-related charges, which he has denied.

The conviction comes after Demirtas was sentenced by a court in February 2017 to five months in jail for denigrating the Turkish state and its institutions.

On Friday, the court sentenced Demirtas to four years and eight months for carrying out terrorist propaganda at a speech in 2013, when the government was holding peace talks with Kurdish militants for a ceasefire.

The court also sentenced Sirri Sureyya Onder, a former lawmaker from Demirtas' People's Democratic Party (HDP), to three years and six months in prison on the same charges, CNN Turk said.

"Because they defended peace, they were... sentenced to jail," the HDP said on Twitter.

The Turkish government accuses the HDP of merely being the political wing of the PKK, which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

Both Demirtas and the HDP have denied the accusations of being linked to the PKK, designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and United States.

In June, while campaigning for re-election in presidential elections, Erdogan called Demirtas a terrorist and said he was responsible for the deaths of Kurdish civilians during unrest three years ago.

Demirtas, a former human rights lawyer, is currently being held at a prison in Edirne, in northwest Turkey, from where he campaigned as HDP's candidate in the presidential elections on June 24, largely through social media.

After having won votes beyond his core Kurdish constituency in previous elections, Demirtas failed to mount a significant challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in June. He won 8.4 percent of the vote and came third after Erdogan, who got 52.59 percent, and main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate Muharrem Ince.

Demirtas was defiant after the court's ruling in a message shared by his party on Twitter: "We will not take a step back, we will continue to defend peace."

Demirtas has dozens of court cases hanging over him and in another case over alleged links to the PKK, he risks up to 142 years in jail if found guilty.

However, his HDP remains the second-largest opposition party in Turkey's newly restructured 600-member parliament. Erdogan's ruling AK Party and their nationalist MHP allies hold the majority.

Over a dozen lawmakers had been detained in 2016 and 2017 over alleged links to the PKK, in what supporters say is punishment for daring to oppose Erdogan.

Since the collapse of a two-year ceasefire in 2015, violence has resumed and Ankara has conducted several military operations against the PKK.