Turkish court jails former military chief for life
Ilker Basbug one of 254 defendants found guilty in Ergenekon plot to overthrown government
A protester pushes against a Turkish soldier during clashes near Silivri, where a hearing on people charged with attempting to overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government took place on Monday. Photograph: Reuters
A Turkish court has jailed a former military chief for life and imposed tough sentences on scores of other defendants accused of plotting to overthrow the government, ending a trial that has exacerbated deep rifts between the Islamist-rooted government and its secularist opponents.
The case is seen by some as a step towards democratisation because it has held the once all-powerful military to account, but others say it is little more than a witch hunt.
Countrywide demonstrations in June denounced prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for mounting authoritarianism.
The case involved 23 indictments against 275 defendants, including members of Turkey’s old secular establishment. Some of the main charges revolved around the discovery in 2007 of a large quantity of plastic explosives in an Istanbul suburb and a series of killings, including of Christians and a judge.
In concluding that a terrorist organisation called Ergenekon plotted against the government and committed other crimes, the judges acquitted only 21 of those charged.
Military internet sites
The best-known name in the case is Ilker Basbug, head of the military between 2008 and 2010, who was given a life sentence after ridiculing the charge that he ran a terrorist organisation. The case against him involved military internet sites that were hostile to the government, which he had eventually taken down.
Others sentenced included Veli Kucuk, a retired brigadier-general accused of running death squads in the southeast, who received a double life sentence; Mustafa Balbay, a journalist and opposition member of parliament, who was jailed for 34 years; and Kemal Guruz, former head of the higher education council, who was sentenced to almost 14 years.
“In general the verdicts are very harsh,” said Cengiz Candar, a leading Turkish commentator. “This has become more of a political than a legal case. It looks like settling scores against an old military authoritarianism by a new civilian authoritarianism.”
He said the sheer number of guilty verdicts suggested the case had sucked in far more than a group of people who conspired against the government.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the biggest opposition party, denounced the verdicts as “illegitimate” for having been decided by a trial in a special court. Yesterday evening hundreds of people gathered in an Istanbul district to protest against the rulings.
Many of those jailed are likely to appeal and the case is expected to reach the European Court of Human Rights. However, Taha Ozhan, head of Seta, a think tank close to the ruling AKP, said the case had broken with the past by putting people on trial for plotting against the government, whereas previously they would have gone unpunished.
“There might be some mistakes, there might be some inconsistencies within the trial, but when you compare them to previous trials against civilians [after coups in 1960 and 1980] this is nothing,” he said.
– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013)