The Supreme Court of Appeals has overturned an earlier verdict by a local court which handed down length prison terms handed down to nearly 300 defendants, including many former military force commanders who were accused of plotting to topple the government in a trial dubbed “Ergenekon.”
The high court said in a decision on Thursday overturned a 2013 ruling by the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which sentenced former military chief Gen. İlker Başbuğ, journalist Tuncay Özkan, retired Col. Dursun Çiçek, lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, Workers’ Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek, retired Col. Fuat Selvi, Hasan Ataman Yıldırım, retired generals Hurşit Tolon, Nusret Taşdeler, Hasan Iğsız and Şener Eruygur to aggravated life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
The 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals said it was not able to establish the existence of a terrorist organization called “Ergenekon.” The chamber said local court’s decision on the existence of such an organization was wrong on the grounds that “it is unclear who founded the organization, when it was founded and how it functions.
The appeals court said the İstanbul court had, among other flaws, failed to prove Ergenekon’s existence and ruled that the defendants were denied a fair trial.
The chamber also approved an appeal filed by lawyers of Başbuğ, who said the former military chief should have been tried at the Supreme State Council, the title the Constitutional Court assumes when it tries top state and military officials.
Thusrday’s decision may pave the way for a retrial for the suspects.
The trial had been ongoing since 2008, after the discovery of a weapons arsenal in an İstanbul district. Prosecutors said an alleged network of secular arch-nationalists, codenamed Ergenekon, pursued extra-judicial killings and bombings in order to trigger a military coup.
The 13th High Criminal Court had concluded the trial in 2013 after a five-year process, which resulted in hundreds of years of imprisonment in total and several aggravated life sentences for a series of the country’s high-ranking army members, journalists and academics.
Critics, including the main opposition party, have said the charges are trumped up, aimed at stifling opposition and taming the secularist establishment that has long dominated Turkey. It said the judiciary has been subject to political influence in hearing the case.
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which fervently supported the case when it started in 2008, turned critical of the trial in 2013 and paved the way for the acquittal of the suspects.