A Turkish court sentenced main opposition Republican People’s Party politician Enis Berberoglu to 25 years in prison for “espionage” on Wednesday, making him the first sitting CHP MP to be imprisoned since the 1980 military coup.
Berberoglu was accused of providing the Cumhuriyet newspaper with video purporting to show Turkey’s intelligence agency trucking weapons into Syria.
The newspaper reported in May 2015 that the trucks, which were allegedly owned by Turkey’s state intelligence service MIT, were found to contain weapons and ammunition when they were stopped and searched in the southern Turkish province of Adana in early 2014.
Let those who have victimised us for a crime we didn’t commit be ashamed
– Enis Berberoglu
Media reports said the weapons were destined for Islamic State – a claim the Turkish government denies.
The president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the shipment was from MIT but they were headed for Turkmen fighters opposed to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and IS militants.
Berberoglu’s first response as he was being led away from the courtroom on Wednesday was defiance. He said: “Let those who have victimised us for a crime we didn’t commit be ashamed.”
The CHP, which walked out of the Turkish parliament’s general assembly in protest at the court decision, described his sentence as “an intimidation attempt” targeting opponents of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Speaking after an emergency meeting of its decision-making body immediately after the verdict, CHP chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the party would not accept the verdict.
“Berberoglu was sentenced to 25 years in jail without any evidence. We will never accept this,” Kilicdaroglu said.
“We want justice, democracy and freedom of expression in this country.”
This judiciary and judges have become sticks which the palace uses to beat opponents
– CHP chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu
“This judiciary and judges have become sticks which the palace uses to beat opponents.” Kilicdaroglu also announced a protest march on Thursday in the capital Ankara.
“The imprisonment of our MP is a bitter example showing that the judiciary is under complete control of the executive organ,” said deputy CHP chairman Engin Altay, after the verdict was announced.
“This might be the judicial building but there is no justice to be found here. Judges now only think about how to please the dictator,” added Altay. “Such type of justice be damned.”
Kilicdaroglu reportedly called Berberoglu after the ruling and told him: “Keep your spirits up, we are behind you. We will continue the struggle until you regain your freedom.”
When the video was published by Cumhuriyet, Erdogan vowed to make those who released the video footage pay and called them spies and traitors. Two editors from Cumhuriyet, the editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul, were convicted in May 2016 of publishing state secrets related to the weapons shipment story.
Dundar was sentenced to five years and 10 months in jail, while Gul was sentenced to five years.
Read more ►
The pair were aquitted of trying to overthrow the government, but still face charges of helping an armed organisation. No verdict was passed on those charges on Wednesday.
Gul was present in court. Dundar has been living in exile in Germany since last year.
Celal Ulgen, a lawyer who observed the case, called the verdict “a political decision, not a judicial one”. He said: “They claim he was providing services to foreign agents and he is guilty of espionage. Where is the proof?”
Erdogan and his AKP grouping have claimed the prosecutors who stopped and searched the trucks in 2014 are Gulenists, followers of the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen whom the government accuses of trying to topple Turkey’s constitutional order and also of being behind last July’s coup attempt.
They also claimed that the Cumhuriyet editors who published the video a year later and their source had links to Gulen.
Berberoglu, a former journalist and former editor-in-chief of the Hurriyet newspaper, was being tried for being the source who provided the footage to Cumhuriyet. He was, however, spared detention during the trial given his status as a CHP MP.
CHP MP Enis Berberoglu (5th L) holds some papers as he walks with CHP members and MPs on 14 June before his trial (AFP)
Berberoglu becomes the first CHP MP to be arrested since the abolition of special courts established after the 1980 military coup, when a host of politicians and MPs were imprisoned.
The government has launched a wide-ranging purge of opponents since it declared a state of emergency on 21 July.
It had vowed to only target Gulenists but the purge soon spread to all political opponents of Erdogan and the AKP.
A dozen MPs from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been arrested under state of emergency laws.
The CHP’s Ozgur Ozel told reporters the “CHP would continue its fight against fascism unabated”.
In the first reaction from the ruling party Bulent Turan, an AKP MP, said: “It is ridiculous to call a judicial decision a palace decision.”
Speaking after the CHP walk-out from parliament, he said: “Threatening to leave parliament is an insult to those who voted for you. You [CHP] also voted to lift the immunity from prosecution of MPs. It wasn’t just an AKP decision.”