Former coup plot judge given 13 years in prison over Gülen links

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Ömer Diken, a former judge who was on the panel hearing the 2003 Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup plot trial, has been handed down a prison sentence of 13 years, four months on terrorism charges due to alleged links to the Gülen movement, Turkish media reported on Monday.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The latest hearing in Diken’s trial was held at the İzmir 16th High Criminal Court on Monday where he was given the lengthy sentence on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

Diken was the presiding judge at the İstanbul 10th High Criminal Court at the time of the Sledgehammer coup trial, which began in 2012.

In his defense on Monday, the former judge denied having any links to the Gülen movement, adding that the evidence against him was collected illegally. He asked for his acquittal.

The former judge was among the members of the judiciary who were arrested several days after the coup attempt. Diken was detained in the western province of Uşak on July 17, 2016 and was subsequently arrested.

Sledgehammer was 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.

The Sledgehammer coup plot included bombing two major mosques in İstanbul, 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 İstanbul 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 sentences 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 as regards “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.

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