The Berberoğlu trial
An Istanbul court of appeals confirmed on Feb. 13 that Enis Berberoğlu, a member of parliament from the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) list, must serve five years and 10 months in jail. The court also ruled for Berberoğlu’s continued imprisonment throughout that term.
Berberoğlu is a former journalist who was initially sentenced to 25 years in jail and put in prison on June 14, 2017 on charges of “helping a terrorist organization,” “espionage” and “leaking secret state documents.”
He was accused of handling key footage (most of which was already public) and information - about the Turkish gendarmerie’s confiscation of military material under the control of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) for alleged delivery to Syrian rebel forces in early 2014 - to the editor-in-chief of center-left daily Cumhuriyet, Can Dündar, who now lives in Germany. The gendarmerie officers, prosecutors and judges who instructed the halting of the MİT trucks were later indicted as members of the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher accused of masterminding Turkey’s July 2016 coup attempt. The Gülen network is now designated as a terror organization, which Berberoğlu had been sentenced for assisting.
Upon Berberoğlu’s objection, the appeals court ruled that there was no evidence supporting the charges of espionage and helping a terrorist organization. It therefore reduced those charges from the 25-year sentence, while still sentencing the CHP deputy to five years and 10 months in jail over making secret government documents public. Berberoğlu, who did not appear at court and took part in the hearing via video conference after refusing to be brought to court in handcuffs, also rejects that accusation.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu received news of the Berberoğlu ruling near the end of an address to his parliamentary group, as it was being broadcast live by a number of TV stations. “We do not accept this. We believe that Berberoğlu will be eventually cleared of all charges,” he said.
A day after Berberoğlu’s jailing back in June 2017, Kılıçdaroğlu had started a “Justice March” from the capital Ankara to Istanbul in protest. The 450-km march continued for 25 days, making it Turkey’s longest ever political rally.
Berberoğlu is not the only politician in jail in Turkey. Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chairman of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and eight other MPs are currently jailed under arrest on terror allegations. The organization in question in their cases is the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK launched an armed campaign against Ankara for independence back in 1984, and over 40,000 people have been killed in that conflict so far. After the collapse of a ceasefire and dialogue process in search of a peaceful settlement – following the resumption of PKK attacks in 2015 during the Syrian civil war - Turkey’s fight against the PKK has spilled over into Syrian territory. The U.S.’s ongoing collaboration with the PKK’s Syrian branch, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – renamed to the more PR-friendly Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following an American demand - is today a major problem between Turkey and its major NATO ally.
Now, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to arrive in Ankara on Feb. 14 for two days of talks with President Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu amid Turkey’s continued military operation in Syria. That operation, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch” by the Turkish authorities, is being carried out against the YPG/PKK-held Syrian district of Afrin, right on the border with Turkey.