Will the Ergenekon case close with a ruling?
One of Turkish history’s most important political court cases is expected to come to an end today, Aug. 5, at Istanbul’s 13th Criminal Court. The judges will decide whether 275 suspects, 66 of them under arrest (some of them for more than five years now) were members of an illegal organization called “Ergenekon” which aimed to overthrow Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government by using methods of terrorism and subversion.
When the prosecutors submitted their indictment in July 2008, as a result of a police operation the year before, it was understood that the name “Ergenekon” as an illegal formation had been first mentioned in a National Intelligence Organization (MİT) document back in June 2002, before the election that brought the AK Parti to power.
Nevertheless, after five years, a total of 23 cases were also combined with the Ergenekon trial, including the killing of a Council of State Judge in Ankara in May 2006 and a number of fatal attacks against Christian minorities in Turkey, allegedly to agitate domestic and foreign public opinion against the “Islamist” government in Turkey.
The person which created the most controversy in the trial is İlker Başbuğ, the retired general who served among the top brass of Erdoğan first as the Land Forces commander and then the chief of General Staff between 2006 and 2010. He was arrested in the first days of 2012 on charges of being an executive member of Ergenekon to overthrow the government.
Rejecting the whole Ergenekon case as a scenario to endorse AK Parti rule over the country, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) recruited two of the accused, prominent journalist Mustafa Balbay and internationally renowned surgeon Mehmet Haberal, getting them elected to Parliament in the 2011 elections. But the court refused to let them out to take their oath to initiate their deputyship, while the AK Parti refused to make the necessary legal adjustment to allow them to do so.
Long and extended detention periods have caused international and domestic action, such as by President Abdullah Gül or Constitutional Court Chairman Haşim Kılıç, but yielded no result so far.
The court ruled days ago that they would allow only defense lawyers and a limited number of reporters into the courtroom today; no relatives or friends of the accused will be let in in an effort to prevent protests. Actually, the Interior Ministry forces have already sealed off the Silivri court facilities, some 50 kilometers west of Istanbul, in order to prevent demonstrations outside as well.
The government sees Ergenekon as an exemplary case to deter any anti-democratic attempts to overthrow an elected government; whether it is democratic to limit the right to peaceful assembly is another question.
The decision by the court, on the other hand, is likely to lead to a number of new cases in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the government because of complaints of violations of rights, including the right to defense and fair trial.
The case is also likely to have echoes in Turkish political life for many years.