Turkey: Mass trial ends in mass convictions

Many Turkish lawmakers say the Ergenekon trial was nothing but an excuse for the prime minister to put away his rivals and silence his critics.

Was it “a witch hunt”? asked Ian Black in The Guardian (U.K.). A special court in Turkey has convicted 275 people—including some of the country’s most prominent generals, politicians, and writers—of plotting to overthrow the Islamist-leaning government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The convicted amount to a who’s who of the secular opposition. Former military chief Ilker Basbug and 16 other retired officers were sentenced to life in prison, along with several top journalists and the leader of the socialist Workers Party. Others got prison sentences of up to 47 years. The alleged plot was intricate: Prosecutors said the accused intended to launch attacks across the country and blame them on Islamic militants to create a pretext for a military takeover. Of course, the idea that generals might plot a coup isn’t far-fetched in Turkey, which saw three military takeovers between 1960 and 1980. But many Turkish lawmakers say this vast trial was nothing but an excuse for Erdogan to put away his rivals and silence his critics.

This was no show trial, said Yavuz Baydar in Today’s Zaman (Turkey). “Those of us deeply familiar with the dark crimes of the past know that prosecutors from early on clearly had a case.” Many of the top military figures indicted had already been implicated in the “ruthless engineering of civilian politics,” and the evidence proved them guilty of plotting against the government. Unfortunately, the court allowed the trial to be muddied by sweeping in marginal figures as well. “The case turned into a swollen bag of people instead of a clear focus on those in the center of this Mafia-like web.” Those accused of belonging to the Ergenekon terrorist network span the political spectrum—with one exception: Islamists. That gives ammunition to those who say the government was using the trial to persecute anyone who disagreed with it.

“If they had only punished the butchers, we’d have applauded until our hands bled,” said Zulfu Livaneli in Vatan.But the judges also convicted innocent writers and politicians. Worse, they did so based on secret testimony by secret witnesses. The defendants couldn’t confront those people, nor call their own witnesses to refute them. “Justice was not served.” And the harm done to the rule of law in Turkey is incalculable.

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On the contrary, said Faruk Cakir in Yeni Asya. Turkish democracy has suffered immeasurably from coups, and we have to guard ourselves against all such attempts. The Ergenekon trial comes on the heels of last year’s Sledgehammer trial, in which some 300 military officers were convicted of coup plots. These convictions show that Turkey can finally “triumph over its coup period.” If we alter our education system so that students are no longer encouraged to protest against the government, we can avoid destabilization in the future. “God save us from all coups, both material and spiritual. Amen.”

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