ISTANBUL – Turkey’s main opposition party set off on a 265-mile march Thursday from the capital to an Istanbul prison to protest the conviction of one of its lawmakers. Thousands began walking from Ankara, with police at the scene.
The leader of the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, called the “march for justice” after parliamentarian Enis Berberoğlu was convicted and sentenced to 25 years for revealing state secrets.
Kilicdaroglu called the verdict “palace-motivated,” a reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Let the whole world hear, we are facing a dictatorial regime in Turkey, in our own land,” he said.
The case of Berberoglu, a former journalist and lawmaker, stems from a 2015 story by the Cumhuriyet newspaper suggesting Turkey’s intelligence service had smuggled weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria. His lawyer has appealed the verdict.
Berberoğlu was accused of giving journalists footage that showed local authorities searching Syria-bound trucks allegedly carrying mortar rounds and getting into a standoff with Turkish intelligence officials. Turkish leaders denied supporting Islamic rebels and said the trucks contained aid to Turkmens in Syria.
Can Dündar, Cumhuriyet’s then editor-in-chief who is now abroad, and the paper’s Ankara representative, Erdem Gül, are also on trial on similar charges. Separately, the three are being tried for “aiding a terror organization without being members,” a reference to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, accused by Turkey of orchestrating last year’s bloody coup attempt. The prosecution believes Gulen’s network to be the source of the leaked images.
After the verdict, Kılıçdaroğlu tweeted: “In this country, the punishment for covering the news of a truck filled with weapons heading to terror groups is 25 years in prison but illegal arm shipments are allowed!”
Berberoğlu is the first legislator from the Republican People’s Party to be imprisoned since a constitutional amendment stripped parliamentary immunities last year. A dozen pro-Kurdish lawmakers are already in prison for allegedly supporting terror and more than 50,000 people have been arrested for purported links to Gülen.
Hundreds of people gathered in an Istanbul park Thursday. “We want justice; we want a state of law, fair trials. We want democracy, more democracy,” Birsen Ayisik, a 53-year-old protester, said.