A Turkish court has handed down several life sentences in the ‘Ergenekon’ trial of nearly 300 alleged coup plotters, including for ex-army chief Ilker Basbug and several other ex-top brass, along with leftist party leaders and a journalist.
Only 21 defendants have been acquitted so far.
Turkish security forces were braced for large protests from the opposition at Silivri prison, west of Istanbul, where the verdicts were announced.
Despite bans for rallies being issued prior to the verdict delivery, demonstrators started arriving to the courthouse since early in the morning. Critics of Erdogan’s government, including the main opposition party, have described the trial as a “political witch hunt” aimed at cracking down on the country’s strong secularist traditions.
RT’s Irina Galushko, reporting from outside the prison complex, said local media estimated the number of security personnel at 10,000, with 13 water cannons having been spotted at the site.
Reports emerged later of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons being used against protesters who gathered outside the Silivri complex.
The 2,455-page indictment listed dozens of charges against the 275 defendants, including accusations of them being members of an alleged ultranationalist terrorist network known as Ergenekon, which allegedly conspired to overthrow Erdogan’s government. Prosecutors have insisted on life sentences for 64 of the defendants.
The case was opened in 2007 when 27 hand grenades were discovered in a house in Istanbul. Accusations soon began circulating that the explosives were intended to be deployed in an coup attempt. The number of suspects and allegations continued to balloon over the proceeding five years.
Army officers, politicians, scientists, journalists and lawyers would later be implicated in the scheme. All of the accused deny the charges which have been levied against them.
One of the most notable arrests was the January 2012 detention of ex-military chief Ilker Basbug. That members of the military feature so prominently in the case has sparked accusations that Prime Minister Recep Erdogan is attempting to purge the military in a bid to put it under his thumb. The Turkish military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and also forced a pro-Islamist government out of office in 1997. Over the past weekend four senior military officials were dismissed from their posts.
“People here say that essentially Ergenikon is just a pretense under which the Prime Minister is taking people who he personally does not like and putting them in jail so as to get rid of dissident voices,” RT’s Irina Galushko reports from Istanbul.
Critics of the case include the main opposition party, who argue the charges brought against the accused are vague and the trial has dragged on for a suspiciously long period of time. They have further decried the use of anonymous witnesses as unacceptable. Critics of the proceedings have further characterized it as a politically motivated attempt on the part of Ergdogan’s Islamist government to stifle secularist activists in the country.
“This trial has been ridiculous and it ends with the verdict expected from the beginning that will be no surprise for no one. And it will be the end of trust in Erdogan’s government for a lot of people and it also is the end for the judicial system of Turkey,” Yunus Soner, from the Workers Party of Turkey, told RT.
Court hearings concerning the so-called Ergenekon trial have regularly led to violent clashes between the defendants’ supporters and police.
The trial is wrapping up in an already politically volatile climate, as Turkey has witnessed anti-government rallies on a near weekly basis, with the latest having taken place over the weekend. Monday’s verdict is expected to trigger further unrest.