Turkish opposition lawmaker gets reduced, five-year prison term

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Tuesday sentenced an opposition member of parliament to a reduced term of five years and 10 months in jail after convicting him of disclosing government secrets, the defendant’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) said.

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Enis Berberoglu, the first lawmaker from the secular CHP to be detained in a government purge that followed a failed military coup in 2016, was jailed 9 months ago in a case seen by critics as emblematic of the post-coup security crackdown.

Berberoglu was initially sentenced in June to 25 years for espionage on charges he gave an opposition newspaper a video purporting to show Turkey’s intelligence agency trucking weapons into Syria.

In a retrial that finished on Tuesday, Berberoglu, who has denied the charges, was sentenced to five years and 10 months in jail, CHP lawmaker Baris Yarkadas said on Twitter.

The defense will appeal the verdict, Yarkadas added, predicting a higher court would “fix this mistake”. In the meantime, Berberoglu would remain in detention, he said.

Turkish courts can release those sentenced to prison pending an appeals process.

The case has highlighted concerns for the independence of Turkey’s judiciary under President Tayyip Erdogan.

An appellate court had overturned the June verdict against Berberoglu and sent it back to the penal court for retrial, saying it found statements in the indictment to be vague. However, the penal court rejected the move and sent the case back to the appellate court.

“We started with 25 years, we’re down to five years. Don’t be upset, friends,” the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet quoted Berberoglu as telling the court via video link.

Cumhuriyet published the original report about the alleged weapons shipment based on a video that allegedly came from Berberoglu. Two Cumhuriyet journalists, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, were sentenced to at least five years in jail for the report but were later released pending an appeal process.

Dundar has since left Turkey and is now being tried in absentia. Gul remains in the country and free while his appeal is in process.

Berberoglu’s arrest prompted the head of the CHP and thousands of supporters to walk the 425 kilometers (265 miles) from the capital Ankara to Istanbul to protest what they said was the lack of an independent judiciary.

More than 50,000 people have been detained and more than 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from their jobs since the abortive coup in July 2016.

Around 150 media outlets have also been shut and around 160 journalists jailed, the Turkish Journalists Association says. Freedom House, a Washington-based watchdog, downgraded Turkey to “not free” from “partly free” in a recent annual report.

Human rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies fear Erdogan is using the crackdown to stifle dissent. The government says its measures are necessary, given the multiple security threats Turkey faces.

Editing by David Dolan/Mark Heinrich