Ergenekon suspects released amid chaos over legal authority between courts
In his first remarks after being freed, Tuncay Özkan, one of the most high-profile figures of the case, slammed the court that dealt with the case. AA photoTurkey has seen the release of prominent suspects in the Ergenekon coup plot case from a prison in Silivri. However, controversy has emerged over the legal authority for the releases as the court overseeing the Ergenekon case rejects the release decisions.
A total of 20 suspects were released March 10 by rulings in separate courts, including journalist Tuncay Özkan, alleged gang leader Sedat Peker, retired Col. Levent Göktaş, retired Col. Dursun Çiçek and
Prof. Yalçın Küçük.
Küçük was also acquitted from the OdaTV case late 2013 but was still in prison.
Other suspects released include: retired generals Hasan Iğsız and Şener Eruygur, retired rear admiral Alaaddin Sevim, retired captain Muzaffer Tekin, Lt. Mehmet Ali Çelebi, former Workers' Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek, lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, journalists Merdan Yanardağ and Hikmet Çiçek.
Tuncer Kılınç, former secretary-general of the National Security Council, has been also released. Kılınç was sentenced to 13 years and 2 months in prison.
The court also ordered the release of Alparslan Aslan, identified during the Ergenekon trial as the assailant in the Turkish Council of State attack in 2006 that killed a judge. Gökhan Bilgin, son of Judge Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin killed in the attack eight years ago, reacted to the releases. “If they are giving him [Arslan] his freedom, then they should give me my father. I want my father back,” Bilgin said in his first reaction to the release.
Çiçek, whose conviction in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) trial was upheld after an appeal, will not be freed, while Aslan's and Peker’s releases from prison are uncertain as they are also serving previous sentences.
Retired top General Tolon also released
Courts ruled to release three more Ergenekon suspects on March 11, including retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, Boğaç Kaan Murathan who was accused of instigating a Molotov Cocktail attack against daily Cumhuriyet, and publisher Durmuş Ali Özoğlu.
Tolon will not be freed from jail as he was also detained as part of the investigation into the Zirve murders of three Christian missionaries in Malatya.
In his first remarks after being freed, Özkan, one of the most high-profile figures of the case, slammed the court that dealt with the case. “I’m asking, what is my crime? Because the prosecutor said during the trial that I was the one who knew the best what my crime is,” he said.
Earlier, the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, a former specially authorized court, ruled that the continued detention of some Ergenekon suspects, including Veli Küçük, Yalçın Küçük and Doğu Perinçek, while the appeal process was continuing was in line with Turkish legislation.
The specially authorized courts were recently abolished by a new law approved by the Parliament. Main opposition Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu expressed his satisfaction after Özkan’s release, adding that he expected all convicted in the case the be released as well. The releases were made possible with the change in the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which reduced the maximum pre-trial detention period from 10 years to five years. The lawyers applied to the Istanbul 21th High Criminal Court for the releases, instead of the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, after Parliament recently abolished the special authorized courts.
Court rejects releases
The Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which handled the Ergenekon trial, rejected this decision, saying Parliament did not have the authority to abolish the special courts and adding that an application to the Constitutional Court had been filed for the annulation of the legal arrangement. It also claimed, as the court that dealt with the case, that it still maintained authority on deciding about the detentions of the convicts. Meanwhile, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) slammed the Istanbul 13th Criminal Court for “extorting authority.”
“I don’t think a court that has been abolished has the authority to make a ruling. The court can from now on decide if it wants to transfer the files at hand, it can prepare the detailed reasoning of a verdict given, but it cannot rule any longer,” chairman of the first chamber of the HSYK, İbrahim Okur, told Anadolu Agency.
Okur also said the Constitutional Court would likely rule on non-jurisdiction, as the law on special courts does not affect any ongoing trial dealt with by the Istanbul 13th Criminal Court. He also stressed that Article 142 of the Constitution gave the necessary authority to Parliament to legislate regarding the establishment of courts.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said “there are releases after the convictions.” “The maximum period of detention is calculated as the period between the date of arrest and date of conviction. The Constitutional Court has such decisions. I don’t know if the court has rejected [releases] on this ground. We have to see the justification for the rejection,” Bozdağ said.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu expressed his satisfaction after Özkan’s release, adding that he expected all suspects in the case be released as well.
The development comes days after former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ was released upon a ruling from the Constitutional Court that his imprisonment was a “rights violation,” on the grounds that the detailed reasoning regarding his conviction was not issued until seven months after the verdict.
Başbuğ, convicted to life imprisonment, said after the release that he expected all officers convicted in the case to be released on the same grounds. “My release is just a start … If [other convicts are not released] it will not have any significance whatsoever,” he said.
The Istanbul High Criminal Court in Silivri, which reviewed the recent release demands, is the court that dealt with the Ergenekon trial and was in charge of issuing the detailed reasoning.
The Constitutional Court said in its ruling on an individual application from Başbuğ that, due to the delay in the release of the reasoning, his conviction could not be taken to the Supreme Court of Appeals.