As Balbay passes the thousand-day mark in Silivri

As Balbay passes the thousand-day mark in Silivri
Nov. 30 marked the one-thousandth day of daily Cumhuriyet writer Mustafa Balbay’s arrest.

The headlines of Cumhuriyet write that his son Deniz, who was 8 months old when Balbay went to Silivri, is now 4 years old, while his daughter Yağmur is now 11 years old.

Important numbers such as 500, 1,000 and 2,000 have an eye-opening and warning effect in terms of making the problem better understood and creating awareness.

A thousand days is a very long time in a human life. For a person to be deprived of his freedom for such a long time without a verdict is not an acceptable situation in terms of European legal norms.
The essential issue in Mustafa Balbay’s situation, despite the fact that he has been under arrest for 1,002 days as of Dec. 2, is its huge indefiniteness when the verdict about him is issued; consequently, his arrest as it stands has already turned into a punishment.

It might help to make a projection to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation. Balbay is a defendant in the trial process of what we call today the “Second Ergenekon Case” that resulted from the merging of the second and third Ergenekon indictments. When we look at the course of this case, which is being heard by the specially authorized Istanbul 13th Criminal Court and has 108 defendants, we can summarize the picture as follows.

First round of defenses to finish by 2014

In this case, the first stage of entering pleas is currently underway. The last person to start his plea was Hurşit Tolon, who was the 51st defendant in line to testify. Tolon started his defense Nov. 15 in the 140th hearing of the case. Tolon’s defense continued on the sessions held on Nov. 17 and 18. The hearing on Nov. 21 was dedicated to the reading of the official reports from security services, the prosecutor’s office and the office of the interrogating judge. The judge, on the same day, postponed the case to Jan 5, 2012, that is, one and a half months from now. On Jan. 5, 2012, Tolon’s cross-examination will start.

At this point, let’s note that the first hearing of the Second Ergenekon Case was held on July 20, 2009.
In the large hearing room at Silivri near Istanbul, the Ergenekon 1, Ergenekon 2, “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) and Internet memorandum cases are all being heard alternately. Sessions are held four days a week. As an institutionalized practice, eight days are allocated in every 40 days to the Second Ergenekon case in this hall. That corresponds to almost six hearings a month.

It has been 28 months since the case began and only 50 of the 108 defendants have been heard. At this pace, for the remaining 58 defendants (including Tolon), a time span of two and a half to three years is needed. This situation carries us to the second half of 2014 to conclude the first round of defenses.

At that point, one of the most critical stages of the case, the assessment of evidence, will start. There will be a detailed examination of the evidence from each defendant, additional evidence might be asked for, expert views might be demanded, expert reports will be written and submitted to the court, and witnesses might be called in.

Most optimistically, lawyers monitoring the case estimate that it will take two to three years; pessimistically, they estimate it could take five to six years. If we accept the pessimistic scenario, it will be close to 2018.

Living with Ergenekon in the year 2020

Now we can continue to the third phase when the office of the prosecutor will write his opinion. Then comes the last round of the suspects’ defenses, the fourth phase. I don’t want to make a precise guess at this point but it should not surprise anybody for the court to reach a verdict after 2020.

This would be accurate given the pace of six hearings a month. The process can be sped up by the allocation of more “hall time.” The same goes for First Ergenekon case with 108 defendants and the Balyoz case with 367 defendants.

The verdict will be followed by an appeals process. A procedure is in question with the exhaustion of all domestic remedies, first the Supreme Court of Appeals and then the Constitutional Court, all ending at the European Court of Human Rights. In this case, we will continue monitoring the Second Ergenekon case in the 2020s.

Just hang on Mustafa, hang on!

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece appeared Dec 2. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.