News / Europe

Turkish Court Upholds Convictions of Top Officers Over Coup Plot

Relatives of detained military officers hold a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, and shout slogans in front of a courthouse in Ankara October 9, 2013.
Relatives of detained military officers hold a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, and shout slogans in front of a courthouse in Ankara October 9, 2013.
Reuters
Turkey's appeals court upheld convictions on Wednesday of top retired military officers for leading a plot to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government a decade ago, in a case underlining civilian dominance over a once all-powerful army.
 
Relatives of the retired officers wept after the ruling and a defense lawyer said he would take the case to Europe's top human rights court.
 
The judges overturned convictions of dozens of less prominent defendants among more than 300 officers sentenced in September 2012 over the “Sledgehammer” conspiracy, said to have included plans to bomb Istanbul mosques and trigger an army takeover.
 
Turkey's armed forces, the second largest in NATO, 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 in 2002, 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 latest verdict underlines the extent to which Erdogan has brought the military to heel during his decade as prime minister, consolidating his power as he prepares for an election cycle starting next year which could see him become president.

Expressions of anger

In a packed courtroom, supporters of the defendants noisily voiced their anger at the upheld convictions as the chief judge spoke, chanting the secularist slogan “we are Mustafa Kemal's soldiers” and “Tayyip will answer to the people.”
 
Dozens protested outside the court, waving Turkish flags adorned with Ataturk's picture. “We know well it is Ataturk being tried,” said one banner held by the group, which then marched to Turkey's military headquarters before dispersing.
 
Defense lawyer Celal Ulgen said the court had accepted fabricated evidence as genuine and that the judiciary in Turkey was subject to political manipulation.
 
“They want to redesign Turkey with these political trials,” said Ulgen, who defended chief suspect Cetin Dogan.
 
“This is the dissolution of the [Turkish] Republic and a fundamental indication that we are faced with a new regime,” he said, vowing to challenge the verdicts at the European Court of Human Rights.
 
Accusations of political interference
 
The appeals court upheld 20-year prison sentences for chief suspect Dogan, a former commander of the prestigious First Army, former air force commander Ibrahim Firtina and retired admiral Ozden Ornek, court chairman Ekrem Ertugrul said.
 
Among other leading figures whose convictions were upheld were Engin Alan, a retired general elected to parliament as a member of the National Movement Party in 2011, and retired general Bilgin Balanli, who had been in line to become air force commander before his arrest.
 
In total, the court upheld convictions in the three-year trial process of 237 defendants and ruled in favor of the release of 88 defendants. It also upheld the previous acquittal of 36 defendants.
 
Opposition MP Emine Ulker Tarhan echoed Ulgen's allegation that the court ruling was politically motivated.
 
“This is not a verdict by the judiciary, it is a government verdict. Justice has collapsed in this country. They can build a shopping mall in its place,” Tarhan told reporters, playing on accusations that the government is more focused on superficial projects than substantive reforms.
 
There was no immediate government comment on the verdicts but Mustafa Varank, an advisor to Erdogan, wrote on Twitter: “Hopefully the rulings will be a lesson and the coup word will not even cross anybody's mind”.
 
Sledgehammer and other trials have sparked accusations that the government was using courts to silence political opponents, and rights groups have criticized the number of journalists, lawyers and politicians held in jail pending verdicts.
 
A separate Turkish court in August jailed a former military chief for life and imprisoned scores of other leading figures in connection with the separate Ergenekon conspiracy to overthrow the government.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More