Turkey sends CHP deputy Berberoğlu to jail over story on MİT trucks carrying weapons to Syria

CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu

A high criminal court in İstanbul on Wednesday handed down a prison sentence of 25 years to main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Enis Berberoğlu over a report on for ‘leaking state secrets’ in the Syria-bound National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks case. Former journalist and CHP deputy Berberoğlu was sent to prison immediately after the ruling was announced.

The decision was made by the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court. Berberoğlu was convicted of revealing state information that was supposed to remain secret for the purpose of political and military spying. Berberoğlu, who became the first CHP lawmaker to be handed prison time, was accused of providing daily Cumhuriyet with video purporting to show Turkey’s intelligence agency trucking weapons to Syria.

Cumhuriyet daily had reported in May 2015 that  trucks allegedly owned by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) were found to contain weapons and ammunition that were headed for Syria when they were stopped and searched in southern Turkey in early 2014.

When the MİT truck story first broke in 2015, it produced a political firestorm in Turkey about the role of the Turkish spy agency in arming rebel factions in Syria and prompted an investigation into Cumhuriyet daily journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, who published the report.

They were first jailed while facing trial on spy charges for publishing footage purporting to show the MİT transporting weapons to Syria in 2014. Later, the two journalists were released pending trial.

When Dündar later published a book titled “We Are Arrested,” he mapped out the details of the news story on May 27, 2015, saying that a leftist lawmaker brought the information to him. Upon that new revelation, the İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a new investigation and examined Dündar’s phone calls during the days leading up to the publication of the story.

The prosecutor’s office detected a phone conversation between CHP deputy Berberoğlu and Dündar on May 27. A new indictment was drafted for Berberoğlu.

The Turkish government has accused followers of the Gülen movement in the judiciary and security institutions of illegally ordering the search, claiming that the trucks were carrying “humanitarian aid to Turkmens” in Syria.

The court first gave a life sentence to Berberoğlu on charges of ‘revealing the information of the state that should stay secret for the purposes of political and military spying.’ But the court subsequently reduced the sentence to 25 years. The court also said the lawmaker would be stripped of his political rights following the announcement of the decision.

In his first remarks after the ruling, Berberoğlu said those who created such a victimization should be ashamed of themselves. Berberoğlu, who was present at the hearing, was taken to the police station on the court premises to be imprisoned in İstanbul’s Maltepe district.

Following the court’s decision, it was reported that the CHP held an emergency meeting, after which party Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is expected to make an official statement. Meanwhile, the CHP deputies quit a plenary session in parliament to protest Berberoğlu’s arrest.

After the meeting the CHP made a call on Wednesday to take to the streets in Ankara on Thursday to protest the arrest of Enis Berberoğlu. Media reports said the CHP would launch a march from the capital city Ankara to İstanbul.

Speaking at a press conference at the party’s headquarters, CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu stated that he would be in Ankara’s Güvenpark at 11:00 a.m. with a banner in his hand reading “justice.”

“We will start our march in Güvenpark at 11 a.m. tomorrow,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. “We want justice,” he said. “Until democracy and justice comes to this country.” Kılıçdaroğlu also stressed that those who ordered the arrest of Berberoğlu will be trapped under that decision,

“[Berberoğlu] has been sentenced to 25 years in prison without any evidence. What kind of a mentality or law is that? We never accept that. Those who made that decision will be trapped under it,” Kılıçdaroğlu told reporters at the party’s headquarters.

“We living a process that the real criminals are not put on trial but the innocent are tried and jailed,” he added.

“The imprisonment of our lawmaker is a bitter example showing that the judiciary is under the complete control of the executive organ,” CHP deputy chairman Engin Altay also told reporters outside İstanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse.

“If judges make their decisions thinking ‘how can I please the dictator, how will my rulings make the dictator look at me sympathetically to the point that the dictator advances me [in my career]?’ then God damn such justice. This decision is a move to intimidate everyone who is not happy about the AKP. It is also a move to intimidate a society that says ‘let democracy march,’” Altay said.

Making a statement at the İstanbul Courthouse, CHP deputy Barış Yarkadaş said Berberoğlu had given a short speech after the court announced its ruling.

“What we have gone through is like a cartoon. We are like the actors in that play. We are in a comedy. Those who gave this sentence to me should know I can go to jail, I can get out of jail, I can serve my sentence, do it for my homeland. May our homeland live long. I will continue my judicial struggle. I will get out of jail in a short time, but those who gave me this sentence will be convicted in the eyes of history,” Yarkadaş quoted Berberoğlu as saying.
In the meantime, CHP deputies left a parliamentary session on Wednesday in protest of Berberoğlu’s arrest.

Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül, was also present at the hearing on Wednesday, while the newspaper’s former editor-in-chief, Can Dündar, did not attend as he left for Germany last year. “It is a decision to obstruct journalism,” Gül told reporters outside the court.

The court ruled to separate Berberoğlu’s file from that of Dündar and Gül, who are accused of ‘intentionally and willfully aiding an armed terror group.’ The court, which did not render a verdict for Gül and Dündar, saying their trials would continue.

Berberoğlu is a former journalist, who started his career at business daily Dünya in 1981. In his long journalism career, Berberoğlu also worked for Cumhuriyet, CNN Türk and Radikal. He also served as Hürriyet daily’s editor-in-chief from 2009 to 2014.  Berberoğlu was elected to the CHP caucus during an extraordinary meeting on Sept. 5-6, 2014. He was subsequently appointed as the party’s vice-chairman responsible for relations with the media on Sept. 14, 2014, by Kılıçdaroğlu.

Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists in the world. The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 265 journalists are now in jails as of June 14, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 242 are arrested pending trial, only 23 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 105 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the coup attempt. (SCF with turkishminute.com) June 14, 2017

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