Turkey’s former commander İlker Başbuğ and 16 other people receive life sentences on coup plot charges in the Ergenekon trial that lasted almost five years
The Ergenekon coup plot trial, considered the most important legal battle in recent Turkish history, reached an end Aug. 5 after Istanbul’s 13th High Criminal Court handed down severe punishments, including a life sentence for former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ.
The verdict trial, which decided the fate of 275 suspects at the end of the five-year process, resulted in hundreds of years of imprisonment in total and several aggravated life sentences for a series of the country’s high-ranking army members, journalists and academics.
Suspects faced a series of charges from a combined mass of different cases, but with the overall focus around their implication in the Ergenekon network, which was ultimately acknowledged by the court as a terrorist organization that attempted to overthrow the government.
Along with İlker Başbuğ, the most senior official tried in the case, other high-profile military and civilian suspects such as retired generals Hurşit Tolon, Veli Küçük and Şener Eruygur as well as journalists Tuncay Özkan and Mustafa Balbay also received long prison sentences.
In total, 21 of the 275 suspects were acquitted and 17 were arrested at the verdict trial, as the cases regarding three suspects who died during the course of the trials were dismissed.
The Aug. 5 verdict trial marked the end of the Ergenekon coup case, which gripped the nation since a manhunt was launched following the discovery 27 hand grenades in an Istanbul house.
Former top brass handed life sentences
Former Gov. İlker Başbuğ, who served as the chief of General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces as recently as between 2008 and 2010 was given a life sentence. He was charged with “attempting to destroy the Turkish government or to attempting to partially or completely prevent its functioning,” according to the indictment.
Hurşit Tolon, a former commander of the First Army, was also sentenced to life in prison with the same charges as Başbuğ. Former Second Chief of General Staff Gen. Hasan Iğsız was given a life sentence while former Gendarmerie Forces Cmdr. Şener Eruygur received an aggravated life sentence.
Meanwhile, retired Gen. Veli Küçük, whose name also came up in the notorious Susurluk deep state case back in the ‘90s, received a double aggravated life sentence as well as an additional 99 years and one month. Küçük was among the first suspects detained in the Ergenekon investigation.
Retired Col. Arif Doğan, who was allegedly the founder of the Gendarmerie Intelligence Anti-Terrorism Unit (JİTEM), a secret shadowy organization whose existence was a subject of contention, was sentenced to 47 years as a result of the hearings. Both Küçük and Doğan were accused of founding and leading a terrorist organization and trying to overthrow the government.
Retired Gen. Nusret Taşdeler and retired Col. Fuat Selvi were also sentenced to life in prison.
Another retired general and alleged member of JİTEM, Levent Ersöz, has been sentenced to 22 years and six months for an “attempted coup.” Ersöz is also a main suspect in the investigation of the alleged murder of former President Turgut Özal.
Aggravated life sentences for journalist Özkan and Workers’ Party leader Perinçek
Prominent civilian suspects in the case such as journalist Tuncay Özkan and Workers’ Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek, accused of “leading a terrorist organization,” also received severe punishments from the court.
Özkan, who founded broadcaster KanalTürk in 2004 and directed it until it was sold a few months before his arrest in September 2008, also received an aggravated life sentence an additional 16 years.
Perinçek, an iconic and controversial political figure, received an aggravated life sentence and an additional 30 years in prison. His son Mehmet Perinçek, a historian and also a suspect in the case, was sentenced to six years in prison.
İP executives Hayrettin Ertekin and Hikmet Çiçek were sentenced to 16 and 21 years respectively. The party’s lawyer Emcet Olcaytu received 13 years and two months.
Lawyer Alparslan Aslan, identified as the assailant in the Turkish Council of State attack in 2006 that killed a judge, was handed down a double aggravated life sentence as the deadly bombing was considered to be related to Ergenekon. Arslan was also suspected of involvement in an attack on daily Cumhuriyet the same year. Bedirhan Şinal, a suspect in the attack on Cumhuriyet, was sentenced to 18 years and eight months.
Journalist Balbay sentenced to over 34 years, warns about ‘warm automn’
Former chief editor of daily Cumhuriyet Mustafa Balbay was sentenced to 34 years and eight months in prison. Balbay was elected a deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the 2011 elections.
The basic evidence about Balbay’s alleged links with Ergenekon came from a soft copy of a diary reportedly found on his computer that allegedly showed evidence the columnist planned a military coup between 2000 and 2005 with the late İlhan Selçuk, the former chief columnist of Cumhuriyet, and some other journalists and high-ranking soldiers. However his long detention triggered a lot of strong reactions against the handling of the case by the judiciary.
Before the verdict was announced, Balbay said the government aimed to “conceal the case from the public.”
“A warm autumn is coming. They want to take over this case. We will not let it happen. This case is political. They want to conceal the case from the public,” Balbay said.
Another CHP deputy, Mehmet Haberal, a surgeon and former rector of the private Başkent University, was first sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison but was subsequently released for having completed his sentence during the trial.
CHP deputy and former Ankara Chamber of Commerce chairman Sinan Aygün was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison.
Outspoken scholar and writer Yalçın Küçük was also sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison. Küçük is also a suspect in the OdaTV case, which focuses on an online news portal known for its fierce criticism of the government.
Author Ergün Poyraz, known for his work on religious sects, was one of the first suspects arrested in the Ergenekon investigation. He was given a sentence of 29 years.
Prominent economist and columnist Erol Manisalı was sentenced to nine years and eight months.
The court also sentenced former head of the Higher Education Board of Turkey (YÖK) Kemal Gürüz to 13 years and 11 months for his involvement in the network. Gürüz served as YÖK’s head during eight years between 1995 and 2003.
Former Samsun May 19 University rector Ferit Bernay and Bursa Uludağ University rector Mustafa Abbas were each sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Journalist Güler Kömürcü, who was being prosecuted without detention, was sentenced to seven years and six months. Another journalist, Adnan Bulut, was also sentenced to six years.
Former Police Chief Adil Serdar Saçan was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Former Mayor Gürbüz Çapan received a one-year sentence.
Defense lawyers expected to appeal rulings
The court sentenced Lt. Col. Mustafa Dönmez to 49 years in prison. Dönmez had previously made the news when authorities refused to permit him to travel by sea for his son’s funeral, fearing he could make an escape.
Retired Col. Hasan Atilla was handed down a sentence for 29 years and three months while retired Gen. İsmail Hakkı Pekin was sentenced to seven years.
Former North Sea Field Cmdr. Mehmet Otuzbiroğlu was sentenced to 20 years and six months, but was ultimately released for time served with sentence reductions.
The cases of three suspects who died during the course of the Ergenekon trials were dismissed.
Some 33 indictments have been submitted over the course of the Ergenekon trials, which saw over 130 witnesses, including 31 secret witnesses testify at hearings.
The court is expected to write its reasoning decision in the coming month. The defense lawyers will prepare an appeal to the Turkish Supreme Court just as in the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) coup plot case