Several thousand people took to the streets of Turkey’s two biggest cities on Thursday to protest against a 25-year prison sentence handed down to an opposition lawmaker on spying charges.
A court sentenced Enis Berberoglu, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), on charges of military espionage on Wednesday. It alleged he gave an opposition newspaper a video purporting to show Turkey’s intelligence agency trucking weapons into Syria.
The CHP voted together with ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on 20 May 2016 which resulted in an amendment to the Constitution removing parliamentary immunity. Berberoglu is the first lawmaker from the CHP to be jailed in a government crackdown that followed last July’s failed coup. Before Berberoglu’s sentence, lawmakers of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag were handed down long prison sentences.
More than 50,000 people have been imprisoned in Turkey and over 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in the aftermath of the coup attempt.
Carrying banners that read “Justice”, and waving Turkish flags, crowds demonstrated as CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu started a 425 kilometre march from the capital Ankara to the Istanbul jail where Berberoglu is being held.
Wearing a white shirt and waving at his supporters on the way, 68-year-old Kilicdaroglu embarked on a journey that party officials said could take at least 20 days.
Kilicdaroglu has called the arrest lawless and motivated by the presidential palace, a reference to President Tayyip Erdogan. “Our march will continue until there is justice in this country,” Kilicdaroglu told reporters before setting off.
Crowds gathered at a park in the capital to see him off and to protest Berberoglu’s imprisonment.
“Erdogan is waving his finger at everyone who is against him,” said Nuran, a retired teacher who declined to give her surname. “The arrest was made to send a message but we are not afraid. We will resist until they jail every single one of us.”
Nearby, many people held banners, waved Turkish flags and carried posters of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the secular founder of modern Turkey, and the CHP.
Police imposed tight security measures at the site of the protest, setting up security barriers, sealing off nearby roads and carrying out searches with bomb disposal teams and dogs. Water cannon and armoured police vehicles waited nearby.