Turkey jails over 300 military officers for Erdogan coup plot
A TURKISH court has sentenced more than 300 military officers to jail for plotting to overthrow prime minister Tayyip Erdogan almost a decade ago, ending a trial that underscored civilian dominance over the once all-powerful military.
The court in Silivri, just west of Istanbul, yesterday handed prison terms to 322 serving and retired army officers and acquitted 34, according to court documents.
Two retired generals and a retired admiral, considered the ringleaders of the so-called “Sledgehammer” plot to topple Mr Erdogan in 2003, were given life terms. Their relatives collapsed in tears in the courtroom as the sentences were handed down.
The military has long been the guardian of Turkey’s secular establishment, launching three coups between 1960 and 1980 and putting pressure on an Islamist-led government to quit in 1997.
However Mr Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party, which came to power a decade ago, has tamed military influence over policymaking and ministerial appointments as part of efforts to strengthen democracy, while prosecutors have pursued suspected coup-plotters through the courts.
The ruling has the potential to undermine morale in the military as it battles Kurdish militants in the southeast and faces a growing challenge maintaining security along its border with Syria.
The court said those sentenced to life would in fact only serve 20 years because they were unsuccessful in their bid to topple the government.
The Sledgehammer conspiracy is alleged to have included plans to bomb historic mosques in Istanbul and trigger conflict with Greece to pave the way for an army takeover.
Prosecutors had demanded 15- to 20-year jail sentences for the 365 defendants, 364 of whom were serving or retired officers.
Those sentenced to life included retired generals Cetin Dogan and Halil Ibrahim Firtina, and retired admiral Ozden Ornek, considered the ringleaders of the plot.
Those sentenced to 18-year sentences included Engin Alan, a retired general elected to parliament as a member of the National Movement Party last year, and Bilgin Baranli, who had been in line to become air force commander before his arrest last year.
Sledgehammer is one of a series of trials that has sparked criticism that the government is using the courts to silence political opponents.
Thousands of people, including journalists, lawyers and politicians, are in jail pending verdicts in trials that human rights groups say raise questions about Turkey’s commitment to democratic rights. – (Reuters)