The silver lining in the Ergenekon ruling

The silver lining in the Ergenekon ruling

The overturning by Turkey’s top court of appeal of the so-called “Ergenekon coup plot trial,” which was initiated in 2007 and lasted until 2011, is being hailed as one of the most significant legal developments in recent Turkish history. 

The court ruled last week that the alleged “Ergenekon Terror Organization” did not exist at all and that the convictions meted out in the case were the result of trumped-up charges brought and pursued by supporters of the Gülen group within the judiciary. 

By a strange quirk of fate, it is the Gülen group that is accused now of plotting against the same government that the Ergenekon group allegedly plotted against. Meanwhile, the chief prosecutor of the Ergenekon case has fled the country and is on the run.

The tables may have turned, but this does not do away with many questions and facts relating to this case. To start with, it must be recalled that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Islamist Gülen group were once close allies.

Former Chief of the General Staff İlker Başbuğ, who was accused of being the leader of  Ergenekon and put in prison, reminded everyone, after the court of appeal’s verdict, that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time, had also provided strong backing for the Ergenekon case and those prosecuting it.

Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based preacher who heads the Gülen movement, may have fallen out since and become bitter enemies, but this does not exonerate the government of responsibility over its stance at the time.

Many innocent people, whose only “crime” was to be staunch supporters of secularism, were picked up and thrown in prison, with many of them languishing there for years. There was not an iota of sympathy from the government then for these people then. 

Erdoğan’s supporters and members of the government are trying to whitewash this fact now, but those who suffered in prison, lost their jobs and had their lives disrupted will not forget.

Legal experts expect many cases of wrongful conviction to be initiated against those behind the Ergenekon case, although they admit this will take time, maybe years. When this happens, those cases are also expected to pose an embarrassment to Erdoğan and the AKP.

But the important thing here is that the Ergenekon case shows how the judiciary in this country can be co-opted to serve political ends while disregarding the rule of law. The appeal court’s verdict last week was pleasing to many, but it did little to do away with the distrust of ordinary citizens toward the legal system in this country. 

It is clear that politically motivated judicial aberrations are still continuing today, especially with regard to constitutionally protected rights, such as freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

We also have a president who says he does not respect the Constitutional Court and rejects its ruling simply because it declared that the prominent journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül – deeply hated by Erdoğan - had been put in prison unjustly for merely doing their jobs and reporting on a story of public interest.

Dündar and Gül were released from prison after the high court’s ruling, but the case of espionage against them, for reporting on illegal arms shipments to northern Syria by Turkey’s intelligence organization, MİT, continues.

It must nevertheless be admitted that with the ruling of the Constitutional Court in the Dündar and Gül case, and now the ruling of the high court of appeal with regard to the Ergenekon case, the political manipulation of the judiciary by the government has become a little harder, even if this is still possible to a great extent.

Even this much has to be considered a silver lining in this ongoing story concerning the shortcomings of Turkey’s legal system, which clearly has a long way to go yet before ordinary people can have full trust in its ability to dispense proper justice.