Turkey’s Constitutional Court has rejected an application for the release of Enis Berberoğlu, a deputy of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who previously applied to the court on allegations that his personal liberty and security as well as his right to stand for election had been violated.
The court stated in its ruling that the application of Berberoğlu, who has been behind bars since June 14, 2017, was rejected “on the grounds that his allegations “clearly lack merit.” The ruling dated July 18 was published in the Official Gazette on Thursday.
The 16th Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals previously rejected the request for abatement of proceedings against Berberoğlu on the grounds that he was again granted immunity after his re-election as a deputy in the general election of June 24. The court also ruled that his request for release should be evaluated during a substantive examination of his case file.
Following the rejection of the request by the Supreme Court of Appeals, Berberoğlu announced that he would protest the verdict of the court. Stating that he would not exercise his right to a defence in court and would cut off communications with the outside world, Berberoğlu has refused to meet with his family, attorneys and other deputies since July 23.
In May 2016 the Turkish Parliament voted to eliminate the immunity from prosecution of 138 deputies from among the 667 criminal cases from local courts filed with the legislature for review.
The CHP controversially supported the bill to avoid being seen as an ally of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) since most of the criminal cases involved HDP deputies. During the discussion in parliament, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy Mustafa Şentop said in case of re-election, deputies would regain their immunity.
Berberoğlu is a former journalist who was initially sentenced to 25 years in prison and put behind bars on June 14, 2017 on charges of “aiding a terrorist organization,” “espionage” and “leaking secret state documents.”
In February an appeals court ruled there was no evidence supporting the charges of “espionage” and “aiding a terrorist organization” and reduced the 25-year sentence while still sentencing the CHP deputy to five years, 10 months for making secret government documents public.
Berberoğlu, the first CHP deputy to be given prison time, is accused of providing the Cumhuriyet daily with a video purporting to show trucks operated by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) sending weapons to radical jihadist groups in Syria to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Berberoğlu started his career as journalist at the Dünya business newspaper in 1981. In his long journalism career Berberoğlu also worked for Cumhuriyet, CNN Türk and Radikal and served as editor-in-chief of Hürriyet from 2009 to 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 radical Islamist rebel factions in Syria and prompted an investigation into Cumhuriyet 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 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 me.” Upon that revelation, the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a new investigation and examined Can Dündar’s phone call records 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 naming Berberoğlu. In September 2016, an İstanbul court decided to merge the trial of journalists Dündar and Gül with that of Berberoğlu.
In order to protest the court decision, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu launched a “March for Justice” on June 14, 2017 in Ankara which ended at Maltepe Prison in İstanbul, where Berberoğlu is jailed.