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Turkish court orders release of prominent opposition legislator

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This file photo shows Turkey’s CHP Deputy Chairman Enis Berberoglu (R).

A Turkish court has ordered the release of a prominent lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), who had been sentenced to more than five years in prison for his alleged role in disclosing government secrets.

Turkey’s Court of Cassation issued the ruling for CHP Deputy Chairman Enis Berberoglu on Thursday, state-run Anadolu news agency reported, citing an unnamed judicial source.

According to the judicial source, Berberoglu’s sentence has been suspended until the end of his term as deputy, when his parliamentary immunity ends.

The 61-year-old legislator was first sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2017 for purported releasing of classified documents with the purpose of espionage. The documents showed the country's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) had shipped weapons to foreign-backed Takfiri terrorists in Syria in January 2014.

Ankara believes that Berberoglu had provided the footage of transport for opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, which posted it on its website in May 2015.

The paper said the trucks were carrying some 1,000 mortar shells, hundreds of grenade launchers and more than 80,000 rounds of ammunition for light and heavy weapons.

Ankara denied the allegation and claimed that the trucks had been carrying humanitarian aid to Syria. However, Berberoglu defended the video, saying it was genuine.

In a retrial that finished in February this year, Berberoglu, who has strongly denied the espionage charges, was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison. In Turkey’s snap parliamentary election in June, the legislator was re-elected to parliament from behind bars.

The leaked footage triggered a huge controversy in Turkey, with many bashing the government for explicitly supporting terrorism in neighboring Syria.

Cumhuriyet’s former editor-in-chief Can Dundar and the daily’s Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul were among other defendants in the case. Dundar and Gul were sentenced to at least five years in jail for revealing what was said to be state secrets.

Elsewhere in the report, Anadolu said that during the transport of weapons, gendarmerie officers affiliated with the movement of the US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen stopped the MIT trucks on their way to Syria, despite government orders to let them pass.

Ankara alleges that Gulen orchestrated the 2016 botched putsch against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

During the attempted coup, a faction of the Turkish military declared that it had seized control of the country and the government of Erdogan was no more in charge. The attempt was, however, suppressed a few hours later.

Gulen has denounced the “despicable putsch” and reiterated that he had no role in it.

Turkish officials have frequently called on their US counterparts to extradite Gulen, but their demands have not been taken heed of yet.

Turkey has been engaged in suppressing the media and opposition groups suspected to have played a role in the failed coup.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of having links to Gulen and the failed coup. More than 110,000 others, including military staff, civil servants and journalists, have been sacked or suspended from work over the same accusations.

The international community and rights groups have been highly critical of the Turkish president over the massive dismissals and the crackdown.

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