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Turkey jails pro-Kurdish party lawmaker for more than 16 years

FILE PHOTO - Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) take part in a rally in Diyarbakir, Turkey November 11, 2017. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Thursday sentenced a lawmaker of the main pro-Kurdish opposition party to 16 years and 8 months in prison, courthouse sources said, nearly a year after his arrest on terrorism-related charges.

Idris Baluken, of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was first jailed pending trial in a terrorism-related investigation in November 2016. He was later released in January 2017 and arrested again one month later.

Baluken and other detained HDP members, including the party’s co-leaders, are mostly accused of links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has conducted a decades-old insurgency against the Turkish state. All of the accused have denied the charges.

“This sentence reflects anger against democracy and the fight for freedom. Justice is being used as a baton,” said HDP co-leader Serpil Kemalbay following the court ruling.

The arrests in the HDP drew international condemnation and former co-leader Figen Yuksekdag has since been stripped of her parliamentary status and replaced as co-chairwoman.

“Devastating sentence and continuation of crackdown on opposition voices,” the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, Kati Piri, wrote on Twitter.

The third-largest party in the Turkish parliament, the HDP has been hammered by a crackdown that followed the July 2016 coup attempt, as several of its members have either been detained, jailed or stripped of their parliamentary status.

About 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended and roughly 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial since the failed coup. The HDP says as many as 5,000 of its members have been detained.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies say President Tayyip Erdogan has used the putsch as an excuse to quash dissent, but the government argues the purges are necessary to thwart mounting threats.

Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Richard Balmforth