A Turkish court on Tuesday acquitted 103 retired admirals whom President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused last year of eyeing a “coup,” Agence France-Presse reported, citing state media.
They appeared in court charged with “crimes against the security of the state and the constitutional order” after they signed an open letter in April 2021 in support of a treaty aimed at demilitarizing the Black Sea.
The 1936 Montreux Convention sets strict rules on warships’ passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits leading to the Mediterranean.
But Erdoğan is planning to build a new canal in İstanbul to the west of the Bosporus to take the pressure off one of the world’s busiest waterways.
The former admirals feared that the treaty’s possible collapse if the new canal were built could have negative repercussions for Turkey.
Erdoğan lashed out at the commanders, accusing them of threatening a “coup” against the country’s elected government.
Prosecutors sought a jail sentence of up to 12 years for each of the retired admirals, who were free pending trial.
The court in the capital Ankara on Tuesday ruled that they were acquitted because there were no legal elements of a crime, Anadolu news agency reported.
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.
The trial of the admirals due to a statement they made was interpreted by many as the further deterioration of the freedom of expression in the country.
Turkey was classified as “not free” by Freedom House in its “Freedom in the World 2022” index.