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Turkey restores parliamentary membership of opposition lawmaker

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The Turkish Parliament on Thursday reinstated the parliamentary membership of Enis Berberoğlu, a politician from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who was stripped of his position in the legislature last summer because of a conviction.

Parliament’s move came shortly after a high criminal court in İstanbul finally ruled for Berberoğlu’s retrial last week in line with a ruling from the country’s Constitutional Court.

The retrial is expected to take place when Berberoğlu no longer has parliamentary immunity.

On Jan. 21 the Constitutional Court ruled for a second time that Berberoğlu’s right to stand for election and engage in political activities along with his right to freedom and security had been violated.

Berberoğlu, who spent 15 months in jail on espionage charges, had to apply to the court for a second time when the court’s first ruling in October 2020 on the violation of his rights was defied by lower courts, which refused to retry Berberoğlu.

The top court’s decision said Berberoğlu should not have been tried because of his legislative immunity.

Yet, the lower court argued that the Constitutional Court’s decision fell within the scope of a review of the merits of the case and hence there were no grounds for a retrial.

The İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court accepted a request from Berberoğlu for a retrial and stay of execution of the jail sentence given to him.

Berberoğlu stood trial on espionage charges

The former CHP deputy was arrested in June 2017 for allegedly supporting a terrorist group and charged with espionage as the source of Cumhuriyet daily reports on Turkish national intelligence agency trucks carrying weapons to Syria.

Following the publication of the report, Cumhuriyet’s then-editor-in-chief, Can Dündar, and then-Ankara representative Erdem Gül were arrested.

Although Dündar and Gül were released pending trial in February 2016, in the course of the investigation the prosecutor discovered that the source of the reports was Berberoğlu.

Berberoğlu was initially sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2017 on espionage charges for providing the Cumhuriyet newspaper with video footage showing weapons and ammunition hidden in crates of medicine in trucks bound for Syria. The trucks were stopped by Turkish gendarmes, leading to a standoff between law enforcement officers and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) agents who were escorting the consignment.

The İstanbul Regional Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in February 2018 and instead convicted Berberoğlu of disclosing confidential information, sentencing him to five years, 10 months’ imprisonment.

Berberoğlu was re-elected to parliament in the June 24, 2018 general election, after which the Supreme Court of Appeals accepted a request for a stay of execution of his sentence on the grounds of his legislative immunity and ruled that he be released.

In September 2018 the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld Berberoğlu’s conviction and sentence. He was not rearrested due to his legislative immunity. Yet, on June 4, 2020 the General Assembly of the Turkish Parliament stripped him of MP status, citing his conviction. He was detained and arrested the next day. On the same day, he was released from prison as part of COVID-19-related measures.

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