Former Taraf journalists stand trial over Sledgehammer coverage

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Journalists from the now-closed Taraf daily appeared in court on Friday over a report published by the newspaper in early 2010 detailing a suspected coup plot known as Sledgehammer, or Balyoz.

Taraf’s former editor-in-chief, Ahmet Altan, its former deputy editor-in-chief, Yasemin Çongar, and former editor Yıldıray Oğur face a prison sentence of up to 52 years, six months, while former Taraf reporter Mehmet Baransu, who is currently in jail, faces a prison sentence of up to 75 years. Journalist Tuncay Opcin is also a suspect in the case, but he is currently at large.

Sledgehammer is an alleged military coup plot against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) drafted in 2003. The military is claimed to have planned drastic measures to foment unrest in the country in order to remove the AKP from power.

During the first hearing on Friday at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, Altan and Çongar’s lawyer, Veysel Ok, told the court that the indictment for which his clients prepared a defense differs significantly from the indictment that was being read out in court.

In response, the judge said there might have been a mistake in the copy and paste of the indictment.

In his defense, Altan said he believed in the authenticity of the Sledgehammer documents and published them, adding that both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the court will be shocked when they understand that the military was really preparing for a military coup with Sledgehammer.

Baransu, who attended the hearing via teleconference, said Sledgehammer is an authentic coup plan.

“Just look at what took place on July 15 and how emergency rule was declared. If there is the slightest difference between Sledgehammer and July 15, just spit in my face,” Baransu said.

The journalist also said it would have been impossible for the AKP government to finish off the military tutelage if it had not been for himself, Altan and Çongar.

Turkey survived a military intervention on July 15 that killed over 240 and wounded more than 1,000 people. Immediately after the coup attempt, President Erdoğan declared emergency rule and launched a massive purge across Turkey against the alleged coup plotters.

The Sledgehammer coup plot included bombing two major mosques in Istanbul, an assault on a military museum by people disguised as religious extremists and the raising of tension with Greece through an attack on a Turkish plane and blaming the incident on Turkey’s Aegean neighbor.

An Istanbul court had sentenced 331 of the 365 suspects to prison on Sept. 21, 2012, while 34 were acquitted. Three retired generals were sentenced to life in prison on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government by force,” but the terms were later reduced to 20 years because of the “incomplete attempt at staging a coup,” the court said.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court handed down a ruling in June 2014 stating that the rights of a majority of the convicted suspects in the Sledgehammer coup plot case were violated concerning “digital data and the defendants’ testimonies.” All 236 Balyoz suspects and convicts, including high-ranking generals, were released directly after the top court’s decision, and they were subsequently acquitted of all charges.

The next hearing in the trial is set for Nov. 23.

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