A Turkish court has sentenced main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker and journalist Enis Berberoglu to 25 years in prison on spying charges, making him the first CHP deputy to be imprisoned since parliament lifted lawmakers’ immunity in 2016.
The CHP said that the detention and imprisonment of Berberoglu was aimed at intimidating the opposition and that it would hold street demonstrations to protest. Several members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) have already been imprisoned on terror-related charges since last year’s failed coup attempt, but this is the first such jailing of a CHP figure.
Berberoglu, former editor-in-chief of Hurriyet newspaper, was accused of leaking images to opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet that purportedly showed Turkey’s intelligence service (MIT) helping to send weapons and ammunition to Syria on trucks. In the same case, Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, was sentenced to six years in prison last year for revealing state secrets. Dundar currently resides in Germany.
The trucks, which were allegedly owned by MIT and were carrying ammunition, were stopped by Turkish police and gendarmerie forces near the Syrian border in December 2014. Cumhuriyet published photographs of the police operation in 2015, leading President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to state his outrage.
Erdogan said at the time that the trucks were only carrying humanitarian aid destined for Turkmen groups in northern Syria and that those who published the images would pay a heavy price.
“We won’t accept the sentence handed to Berberoglu. He was arrested without any credible evidence”, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu protested.
Kilicdaroglu said he would hold a march in Guvenpark in central Ankara on June 15. He called on party supporters to join him. The march is to head to Istanbul where Berberoglu is being held in prison.
On June 14, CHP lawmakers walked out of parliament’s general assembly in protest at the imprisoning of their colleague. Engin Altay, deputy chairman of the opposition party, described the jailing of Berberoglu as an attempt at intimidation targeting the opposition and all those who are unhappy with the policies of the government.
“The imprisonment of our lawmaker is a bitter example showing that the judiciary is under the complete control of the executive organ,” Altay told reporters outside the courthouse in Istanbul, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
The pro-government Sabah newspaper accused Kilicdaroglu of collaborating with the Gulenists. It described Kilicdaroglu’s planned march from Guvenpark as “a provocation”. The newspaper pointed out that the march will take place exactly one month before the anniversary of the botched putsch.
Sabah also referred to rumoured claims that the Gulenists may once again attempt to stage a coup to topple the government and said that the timing of Kilicdaroglu’s march raises serious questions over CHP’s links to the Gulenists.The government alleges US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen was behind the failed coup attempt, although he strenuously denies any involvement.
In a crackdown on alleged Gulenist network affiliations, the government has purged and arrested far in excess of 100,000 people and seized more than 800 companies with assets of around $10bn.
The state of emergency that was declared after the coup attempt remains in place and Erdogan has referred to it as indefinite. It allows him to rule by decree.
Of Ankara’s Western allies, the European Union in particular has voiced concern over the widespread crackdown.
The CHP has in fact never been a party of street demonstrations. The secularist centre-left party, at least at the leadership level, did not, for instance, take part in the 2013 anti-government Gezi Park protests. Kilicdaroglu also declined to support the street protests organised in several cities after the controversial referendum in April on introducing an executive presidency with sweeping powers. The post-referendum protests did not last very long as they failed to draw big crowds to the streets.
Gursel Tekin, a prominent figure in the main opposition party, said on June 14 that the CHP planned protests for the country’s 81 cities, including sit-ins in Istanbul’s Macka Park and outside the prison where Berberoglu has been sent.