Turkish general jailed for plotting against government

Monday 05 August 2013 22.08
Supporters of the defendants protest near the courthouse in the Silivri jail complex
Supporters of the defendants protest near the courthouse in the Silivri jail complex

A Turkish court has sentenced a former military commander to life in prison for plotting against the government.

Retired military chief of staff General Ilker Basbug was sentenced for his role in the "Ergenekon" conspiracy to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Announcing verdicts on the 275 defendants in the case, the judges also sentenced three serving parliamentarians from the opposition Republican People's Party to between 12 and 35 years in prison.

Six judges took it in turns to read the verdicts, sentencing defendants for membership of the "Ergenekon terrorist organisation."

The five-year trial has become a battle between Mr Erdogan and the secularist establishment.

Earlier, security forces fired tear gas in fields around the courthouse in the Silivri jail complex, west of Istanbul, as supporters of the defendants gathered to protest.

Prosecutors say an alleged network of secular arch-nationalists, code-named Ergenekon, pursued extra-judicial killings and bombings in order to trigger a military coup, an example of the anti-democratic forces which Mr Erdogan says his Islamist-rooted AK Party has fought to stamp out.

Critics, including the main opposition party, have said the charges are trumped up, aimed at stifling opposition and taming the secularist establishment which has long dominated Turkey.

They say the judiciary has been subject to political influence in hearing the case.

"This is Erdogan's trial, it is his theatre," Umut Oran, a parliamentarian with the opposition CHP party, told Reuters.

"In the 21st century for a country that wants to become a full member of the European Union, this obvious political trial has no legal basis," he said at the courthouse.

Mr Erdogan has denied interfering in the legal process, stressing the judiciary's independence.

But he has criticised the prosecutors handling the case and expressed disquiet at the length of time defendants have been held in custody.