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Turkish Courts Refuse to Release Jailed Opposition Lawmakers

An upper and lower court rejected applications from main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for the release of two of its lawmakers who were jailed over charges of espionage and terrorism.

On Friday, Turkey’s Supreme Court rejected the CHP’s appeal to suspend the conviction of Istanbul lawmaker Enis Berberoglu who was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months in prison and who has been in jail since last summer.

The CHP reasoned that the sentence should be suspended since Berberoglu has been re-elected as a lawmaker in parliamentary elections on June 24. But Supreme Court refused that argument and decided for the ongoing imprisonment of the lawmaker.

Berberoglu was jailed in June 2017 on charges of leaking classified state secrets and engaging in espionage against Turkey.

Two years ago, with the blessing and support of CHP, Turkish Parliament passed a legislation removing the immunity of lawmakers from prosecution. The bill was designed to pave the way for the prosecution of pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP).

Turkey’s prosecutors and authorities heavily relied on the law to arrest and prosecute HDP deputies. Then co-chairs of the party, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, had been jailed pending trial over links to outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (HDP) thanks to the CHP-supported legislation.

But the main opposition party lawmakers have also become targets of legal investigations on similar grounds.

Soon after the June 24 elections, Eren Erdem, another CHP lawmaker, was arrested on the charge of a membership to a civil society group blamed by the authorities for the 2016 coup attempt.

When the CHP went to the 16th Chamber of Supreme Court for reconsideration of Berberoglu’s case, it argued that since the removal of immunities was related to the previous legislative body and lawmakers, Berberoglu’s situation must be reviewed again after he was elected to new Parliament after the new presidential system takes effect. The party says Berberoglu’s re-election case nullifies his the legal pretext for his imprisonment and removal of the immunity. Everything must be started from the beginning, the CHP pressed.

But its legal argumentation did little to persuade the majority of the members of the 16th Chamber, which steadfastly rejected the CHP’s appeal.

The decisions came as a blow to the party, which already descended into a bitter struggle for the leadership within the party.

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