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12 retired admirals face 12 years in prison over canal project warning

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A Turkish prosecutor has demanded prison sentences of up to 12 years for each of 12 retired admirals for allegedly “agreeing to commit crimes against the security of the state and the constitutional order,” local media reported on Friday.

They are among 103 retired admirals who are standing trial for a warning they issued in April 2021 about a possible threat to a treaty governing the use of Turkey’s key waterways due to a canal project supported by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The prosecutor, who submitted his opinion during the fourth hearing at the Ankara 20th High Criminal Court on Friday, demanded the acquittal of 91 defendants while accusing the remainder of “agreeing to commit crimes against the security of the state and the constitutional order” and demanded up to 12 years in prison for each.

The prosecutor accused 12 retired admirals, including Atilla Kıyat, Ergün Mengi and Türker Ertürk, of targeting the elected government and agreeing to mobilize active military personnel and dissident segments of society by using the treaty warning as a tool, all of which he said was understood from the correspondence of the defendants in a WhatsApp group named “ADMEK-2.”

The trial was adjourned until Dec. 12 after the lawyers demanded time to prepare a defense.

Exiled journalist Can Dündar criticized the development, saying in a tweet that all the retired admirals did was issue an important joint statement on an issue that “directly concerns their profession and country.”

“[Now] their imprisonment is demanded [by the prosecutor]. … [This is] clearly a ‘thought crime’ and [the result of] the government’s fear of a coup…” Dündar said.

The retired admirals had publicly criticized Erdoğan’s plans to develop an artificial waterway in İstanbul known as Kanal Istanbul.

Kanal İstanbul’s construction would result in Turkey abandoning the 1936 Montreux Convention governing the use of the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, angering Russia and losing its neutrality in the volatile region, they warned.

An investigation was launched into the admirals after Erdoğan accused them of “hinting at a political coup,” in a country where the hint of military insubordination raises the specter of past coups.

The official approval in March 2021 of plans to develop a 45-kilometer (28-mile) shipping lane in İstanbul comparable to the Panama or Suez canals has opened up a debate about Turkey’s commitment to the 1936 Montreux Convention, which is aimed at demilitarizing the Black Sea by setting strict commercial and naval rules on passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits leading to the Mediterranean.

Erdoğan was given the power to pull Turkey out of treaties without parliament’s approval in 2018 when he was elected for a second term as president, but this time under a presidential system of governance that granted him vast powers.

What made the admirals anxious was a landmark move by Erdoğan in March 2021 to withdraw Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women.

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