Former army chief Ilker Başbuğ (C) speaks to media after being released from prison outside Silivri prison complex near Istanbul, March 7. REUTERS photo
Former chief of staff, retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who was sentenced to life imprisonment last year in the Ergenekon coup trial, was released following the Istanbul 20th Heavy Penal Court's ruling March 7.
“My release is just a start,” Başbuğ said in his first statement after leaving the Silivri prison facility.
“I believe with all my heart that the other [convict military officers], innocent just like me, will also regain their freedom in the shortest delay. If this does not happen, my release will not have any significance whatsoever,” he said, emphasizing that the same grounds that enabled his own release were valid for the other convicts.
Başbuğ also condemned the accusations of attempting to topple the government against him and other convicts. “Those who acted with hate and vengeance are the one who kept me here for 26 months. But the Turkish people has very quickly understood that accusing a chief of staff of leading a terror organization was unacceptable and we had nothing to do with staging a coup,” he said, adding that those who prepared the “virtual” Ergenekon case should be brought to light.
“If Turkey wants to become a state of law, it has to answer who has planned and put in practice the project of creating a virtual Ergenekon terror organization.”
Başbuğ’s will be subject to probationary conditions, including a ban on traveling abroad.
The former army chief also reportedly received a call from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
who reportedly expressed his satisfaction over the decision on his release.
The Constitutional Court had on March 6 ruled in favor of a complaint filed by Başbuğ, on the grounds that his legal rights were violated.
Earlier on March 7, President Abdullah Gül had welcomed the Constitutional Court’s ruling.“I see it as a very precious decision,” Gül had told reporters.
Echoing Gül, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç had also praised the decision. “The decision is a very correct one. Perhaps it doesn’t automatically foresee his direct release, but we can now predict that [Başbuğ] will be released,” Arınç had said.
The Istanbul 20th Heavy Penal Court subsequently announced its verdict March 7 in compliance with the Constitutional Court ruling.
“After this verdict, İlker Başbuğ should not stay even a minute in jail,” Metin Feyzioğlu, the head of the Turkish Bar Association, had told private TV station CNNTürk after the Constitutional Court's decision was announced on March 6.
The Court had ruled that Başbuğ’s claim that he was unlawfully deprived of freedom was rejected by a local court "without being effectively examined, and the detailed reasoning regarding his conviction was not issued." It added that for this reason, his conviction could not be taken to the Supreme Court of Appeals.
“Turkey is currently experiencing difficult days, so the verdict issued by the Constitutional Court is important. The decision will not [only] free İlker Başbuğ, but also the captive consciences of the judges who arrested him,” Feyzioğlu said.
Turkey’s 26th Chief of General Staff was arrested Jan. 5, 2012 on charges of being the leader of a terrorist organization aimed at toppling the democratically elected government. Başbuğ’s numerous appeals for release pending trial have been left unanswered by local courts over the last two years.
His arrest was a symbolic development in breaking the military’s tutelage over the political sphere in Turkey, especially over the course of the much debated Ergenekon and Balyoz cases in which hundreds of senior high-ranking former and on-duty officers were tried.
Some 275 coup-plot suspects were handed sentences in August 2013, worth hundreds of years imprisonment in total, with many high-ranking army members, journalists and academics given aggravated life sentences.