Trees die standing tall, some people do too
My heart bled for Enis Berberoğlu, my friend and colleague for thirtysomething years, when I read a statement he made from Istanbul’s Maltepe Prison on July 21.
In protest to a ruling by the Court of Cassations on July 20 denying his request for release instigated by the constitutional parliamentary immunity granted in the wake of getting elected again in the June 24 elections as a lawmaker, Berberoğlu said that from July 23 onwards he will cut off all his communications with the outside world, including his family and lawyers, and would not defend himself in ongoing court cases.
After resigning from his post as the editor-in-chief of the mainstream daily Hürriyet in 2014, Berberoğlu entered politics and was elected as a member of parliament in the 2015 elections on the social democrat Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) ticket. He has been in jail since June 14, 2017, being sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison for “making state secrets public.”
What led him to imprisonment was the lifting of parliamentary immunities last term. Because parliament was newly formed on June 24, the exemption from immunity was supposed to end and newly elected and re-elected MPs were supposed to be given their immunities. That is why Berberoğlu’s lawyers had applied to the Court of Cassations; his term would be suspended and he would get out to take his oath in parliament to resume his legislative work. Berberoğlu’s move is in protest to that decision, which CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called a political manipulation through the Justice Ministry of President Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government.
Berberoğlu’s decision is not a hunger strike — for the time being. This is not a very common way to protest. It is a totally pacifist one and not harmful, even for himself.
“This difficult decision,” Berberoğlu said in his statement, “will naturally not make my family, my party and those who love me happy. Therefore I have to implement it independent from and even in spite of them. But everybody should know that my intention is not to make them unhappy, on the contrary, to prevent them from being sorrier. Because I see that in the debates around my case, mud is spattered on my family, my party, even on my voters; my suffering is used to spread fear among my comrades. Of course, I will very much miss those I will not see, but I know that even if it lives in a forest, every tree dies standing tall.”
Now this is touching, because even in his manifest Berberoğlu uses a literary reference. “Trees Die Standing Tall” is the 1949 novel of Spanish writer and dramatist Alejandro Casona, which was staged and filmed afterwards.
Berberoğlu was first sentenced to 25 years in prison and jailed on June 14, 2017 on charges of “aiding a terrorist organization” and “espionage.” He was accused of giving key footage (most of which was already public) and information purporting to show the Turkish gendarmerie’s confiscation of military material under the control of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) that would allegedly be delivered to Syrian rebel forces in early 2014 to the editor-in-chief of the center-left daily Cumhuriyet, Can Dündar, who now lives in Germany. The gendarmerie officers, prosecutors and judges who instructed to stop the MİT trucks were later indicted to be members of the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
Upon Berberoğlu’s objection, an Istanbul appeals court ruled on Feb. 13, 2018 that there was no evidence supporting the charges of espionage and aiding a terrorist organization. It therefore reduced the 25-year term, but still sentenced the CHP deputy to five years and 10 months in jail on charges of making state secret documents public. The court also ruled for the continuation of his imprisonment.
A day after Berberoğlu was jailed in June, Kılıçdaroğlu started the “Justice March,” walking from the capital Ankara to Istanbul in protest. The 450-km march continued for 25 days, making it Turkey’s biggest-ever political rally.
In a press conference on June 21, Muharrem Erkek, a CHP spokesman, said the ruling could be applied to all 600 members of parliament, making their immunity invalid, and that the Constitutional Court should correct what he called “a mistake.”
In an earlier statement, Berberoğlu said it was no longer the time to make strong remarks that “the law was violated,” in an indirect criticism and message to his party that words are not enough and that they should do something about him.
Maybe trees die standing tall, but if Berberoğlu, as a former journalist, imprisoned politician and an intellectual, declares his position as a tree dying standing, there should be a lot to think about.