Time for verdict arrives in Turkey's major coup plot trial

Time for verdict arrives in Turkey's major coup plot trial

Time for verdict arrives in Turkeys major coup plot trial

Gendarmerie stand guard outside the Silivri Courthouse in Istanbul, where the Ergenekon coup plot case verdict is set to be announced Aug. 5. AA photo

The curtain is set to finally come down on Turkey’s most-important trial in recent memory, as judges are expected to give their verdict against 275 suspects in the five-year-long Ergenekon case today at the Silivri Courthouse amid massive security precautions.

The case, which began in 2007 with the discovery of 27 hand grenades in a house in Istanbul, has seen some of the country’s most prominent figures detained and arrested, including the likes of former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ, Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Mehmet Haberal and Mustafa Balbay and journalists Tuncay Özkan and İlhan Selçuk. A series of high-ranking army personnel, including retired generals Veli Küçük, Hasan Iğsız, Hurşit Tolon and Şener Eruygur, have also been jailed.

The case began with the testimonies of the owners of the house where the explosives were discovered, and the initial indictment, running nearly 3,000 pages, accused the suspects of running a mafia-like terrorist organization that aimed to “push the country back to chaos, darkness and insecurity” in a bid to provoke a military coup against the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP). A second indictment was accepted in 2009, after which even more high-level public figures were detained, prompting authorities to construct a new courtroom in Istanbul’s Silivri district because the original hall was too small to allow in the suspects, lawyers and members of the gallery.

One of the biggest moments of the trial period came with the detention of Başbuğ, who was arrested on Jan. 6, 2012, after being interrogated and sent to court to face charges related to running a terrorist organization and attempting to “destroy the Turkish government or to attempt to partially or completely prevent its functioning.”

Başbuğ’s indictment called for the former army chief to be sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment. Başbuğ has so far attended eight hearings.

Outliving the suspects

Currently 275 suspects, 66 of them under attest, are awaiting rulings. Some 33 indictments have been submitted in the course of the Ergenekon trials, which saw over 130 witnesses testify at hearings.

Despite the release of 66 suspects during the Ergenekon period, the country’s fiercest judicial battle to date even outlived some of its suspects, with Selçuk, Engin Aydın and Muray Özkan all passing away while still on trial. Academic Fatih Hilmioğlu and Lt. Col. Mustafa Dönmez lost their sons while in detention, while Haberal, Iğsız and another former general, Hasan İsmail Hakkı, as well as retired Col. Dursun Çiçek, all lost their mothers during the five-year legal process.

Businessman men Kuddisi Okkır was released at the final stage of his critical illness, and passed away soon after on July 6, 2008. Some of the indictments focus on a variety of attacks and supply of arms, including the bombing of daily Cumhuriyet, the 2007 Turkish Council of State shooting and supply of arms to the attack’s convicted assailant, Alparslan Arslan, and a variety of assassination claims.
Some 31 of the 130 witnesses were secret witnesses, while several of them subsequently outed themselves, including former high-level Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) member Şemdin Sakık, whose testimony caused a strong public backlash.

Around 52 suspects made their final defense on June 21, including Balbay, Haberal, Tolon, Iğsız, Küçük and Workers’ Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek. The joining of several different sub-cases ultimately resulted in the case turning into a 650-hearing leviathan.

Today’s hearing, however, will not be open to any public participation as Istanbul Gov. Hüseyin Avni Mutlu announced Aug. 2 that no protests or demonstration would be permitted in front of the Silivri Courthose. Mutlu said only deputies, lawyers, suspects and members of the press would be allowed to follow the hearing inside the courtroom, adding that those seeking to gather outside the courthouse would be prevented from doing so.

A day after the announcement, police launched raids at several locations in Istanbul and Ankara, including NGOs and media bureaus ahead of today’s hearing, detaining at least 20 people. Police squads set out in the early hours of Aug. 3 and raided the home addresses of İP officials both in Istanbul and in Ankara, as well as workers at the Ulusal Kanal TV station and members of the Turkish Youth Union (TGB), which had previously issued a call for a massive rally outside the courthouse.

Ergenekon by numbers

  • 275 suspects, 66 under arrest
  • 130 witnesses (31 secret witnesses)
  • 66 suspects released
  • 650 hearings 
  • More than 39,000 pages of court documents
  • 7,100 interim judgments