News / Europe

Turkish Army Officers Convicted of Coup Plot Seek Release

FILE - Wives and relatives of retired and active military officers charged in the so-called Sledgehammer trial hold a protest at Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of secular Turkey, in Ankara, Feb. 19, 2011.
FILE - Wives and relatives of retired and active military officers charged in the so-called Sledgehammer trial hold a protest at Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of secular Turkey, in Ankara, Feb. 19, 2011.
Reuters
Hundreds of Turkish military officers convicted of plotting to topple Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were petitioning for release on Thursday after the country's top court ruled their trial was flawed.
 
The 2010-2012 “Sledgehammer” trial marked a high-point in Erdogan's drive to tame an army that for decades had dominated politics. But in consigning a large number of senior serving as well as retired officers to jail, it also eroded NATO's second biggest army amid tension on borders with Syria and Iraq.
 
Erdogan said early this year he was open to the idea of a retrial. Officials suggested evidence had been manipulated by an influential Islamic cleric who had been using influence in police and judiciary to help Erdogan break the army's power.
 
Cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan turned bitter rival, denies any wrongdoing.
 
The constitutional court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that the officers' rights had been violated in the handling of digital evidence and the refusal to hear testimony from two former top military commanders as requested by defendants.
 
Celal Ulgen, defending some of the officers, said: “If the constitutional court ruling arrives during the day, the releases may begin.”
 
He told Reuters lawyers for some of the defendants had already applied for their release although the court had said individual applications were unnecessary. Media reports said 81 of those convicted had so far sought their release.
 
Release of the officers could ease relations between Erdogan - his primacy over the army largely secured - and an officer corps he has excluded from policy-making bodies since coming to power in 2003. The generals, who had removed four governments in four decades, viewed Erdogan with suspicion because of his Islamist past but his popularity afforded him some protection.
 
1980 coup leader jailed
 
In March, a court ordered the release of a former military chief and other defendants accused of the separate “Ergenekon” plot also to topple the government.
 
Erdogan, who is expected to seek the presidency in an August election, is now focused on battling U.S.-based cleric Gulen, whom he also accuses of trying to unseat him.
 
The election comes at a time of heightened tensions on Turkey's frontiers. The armed forces have deployed additional defenses on the Syrian border to cope with spillover from civil war there and a Sunni insurgency in Iraq has also raised alarm in Ankara.
 
More than 300 officers were sentenced in September 2012 over the alleged “Sledgehammer” conspiracy and the appeals court upheld their convictions last October.
 
The alleged plot dates back to 2003, months after Erdogan first came to power, and was said to include plans to bomb mosques and trigger a conflict with Greece by shooting down one of Turkey's own warplanes to trigger a military takeover.
 
Turkey's armed forces were long the guardians of the secular republic established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, carrying out three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pushing an Islamist-led government from power in 1997.
 
Since first coming to power, Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party has reined in army influence with a series of reforms designed to boost democracy, while prosecutors have pursued suspected coup-plotters in the army through the courts.
 
The leading defendants in the Sledgehammer case were Cetin Dogan, a former commander of the prestigious First Army, former air force commander Ibrahim Firtina and retired admiral Ozden Ornek, who were given 20-year prison sentences.
 
Sledgehammer and other trials sparked accusations that the government was using courts to silence political opponents.
 
Former army chief Kenan Evren, 96, was sentenced to life in jail on Wednesday for leading a 1980 coup that resulted in widespread torture, arrests and deaths.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs