A Turkish court has handed down 17 life sentences in the ‘Ergenekon’ trial of nearly 300 alleged coup plotters, including for ex-army chief Ilker Basbug and several other ex-top brass, along with leftist party leaders and a journalist.
The other sentences in the case ranged from one year and three months to 117 years behind bars, and the charges included instigating an armed uprising against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government, “aiding a terrorist organization” and conducting anti-state activities.
Retired Brig. Gen. Veli Kucuk, who was convicted of founding and heading the clandestine, secularist ultra-nationalist organization known as Ergenekon, received a double aggravated life sentence as well as an additional 99 years and one month in prison.
Prominent civilian suspects in the case, including journalist Tuncay Ozkan, Workers’ Party leader Dogu Perincek, accused of “leading a terrorist organization,” and lawyer Alparslan Aslan, identified as the assailant in the Turkish Council of State attack also received aggravated life sentences with additional years of imprisonment from the court.
Only 21 defendants were acquitted, and 16 others were released after the court took into consideration the time they spent in detention during the 6-year trial.
The court’s verdict has not yet come into power, and indictments are to be reviewed by Turkish Supreme Court. Several defendants have already announced they will appeal.
Turkish security forces were braced for large protests from the opposition at Silivri prison, west of Istanbul, where the verdicts were announced.
Despite bans for rallies being issued prior to the verdict delivery, demonstrators started arriving to the courthouse since early in the morning. Critics of Erdogan’s government, including the main opposition party, have described the trial as a “political witch hunt” aimed at cracking down on the country’s strong secularist traditions.
RT’s Irina Galushko, reporting from outside the prison complex, said local media estimated the number of security personnel at 10,000, with 13 water cannons having been spotted at the site.
Reports emerged later of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons being used against protesters who gathered outside the Silivri complex.
The 2,455-page indictment listed dozens of charges against the 275 defendants, including accusations of them being members of an alleged ultranationalist terrorist network Ergenekon, which, according to the court, conspired to overthrow Erdogan’s government. Prosecutors had insisted on life sentences for 64 of the defendants.
Military and Police
Life sentences or more: Former armed forces chief General İlker Başbuğ, Former army commander Hurşit Tolon, Retired Col. Dursun Çiçek, Retired Col. Fuat Selvi, Hasan Ataman Yıldırım, retired generals Nusret Taşdeler, Hasan Iğsız and Şener Eruygur, Retired Brig. Gen. Veli Küçük, Capt. Muzaffer Tekin.
49 years: Lt. Col. Mustafa Dönmez.
47 years: Retired Col. Arif Doğan.
41 years: Retired Maj. Fikret Emek.
Life: Workers’ Party leader Doğu Perinçek.
21 years: Workers’ Party Press Secretary Hikmet Çiçek.
15 Years: Workers’ Party Secretary-General Ferit İlsever.
Journalists, academics, lawyers
Life: Journalist Tuncay Özkan and lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz.
34 years: Journalist Mustafa Balbay.
22 years: Professor Yalçın Küçük.
12 years: Semih Tufan Gülaltay.
10 years: Drug lord Sami Hoştan.
The case was opened in 2007 when 27 hand grenades were discovered in a house in Istanbul. Accusations soon began circulating that the explosives were intended to be deployed in an coup attempt. The number of suspects and allegations continued to balloon over the proceeding five years.
Army officers, politicians, scientists, journalists and lawyers would later be implicated in the scheme. All of the accused deny the charges which have been levied against them.
One of the most notable arrests was the January 2012 detention of ex-military chief Ilker Basbug. That members of the military feature so prominently in the case has sparked accusations that Prime Minister Recep Erdogan is attempting to purge the military in a bid to put it under his thumb. The Turkish military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and also forced a pro-Islamist government out of office in 1997. Over the past weekend four senior military officials were dismissed from their posts.
“People here say that essentially Ergenikon is just a pretense under which the Prime Minister is taking people who he personally does not like and putting them in jail so as to get rid of dissident voices,” RT’s Irina Galushko reports from Istanbul.
Critics of the case include the main opposition party, who argue the charges brought against the accused are vague and the trial has dragged on for a suspiciously long period of time. They have further decried the use of anonymous witnesses as unacceptable. Critics of the proceedings have further characterized it as a politically motivated attempt on the part of Ergdogan’s Islamist government to stifle secularist activists in the country.
“This trial has been ridiculous and it ends with the verdict expected from the beginning that will be no surprise for no one. And it will be the end of trust in Erdogan’s government for a lot of people and it also is the end for the judicial system of Turkey,” Yunus Soner, from the Workers Party of Turkey, told RT.
Court hearings concerning the so-called Ergenekon trial have regularly led to violent clashes between the defendants’ supporters and police.
The trial is wrapping up in an already politically volatile climate, as Turkey has witnessed anti-government rallies on a near weekly basis, with the latest having taken place over the weekend. Monday’s verdict is expected to trigger further unrest.