x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Retired Turkish general in court on coup-plot charges

General Ilker Basbug appeared before a civilian court yesterday charged with overseeing a coup plot to bring down the elected government.

Turkey's then Chief of Staff General Ilker Basbug, centre, follows a guard of honour during a symbolic visit with his classmates who graduated from War College in 1962 to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, in Ankara in 2010.
Turkey's then Chief of Staff General Ilker Basbug, centre, follows a guard of honour during a symbolic visit with his classmates who graduated from War College in 1962 to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, in Ankara in 2010.

ISTANBUL // Just two years ago he was one of the most powerful men in Turkey. Yesterday, retired General Ilker Basbug became Turkey's first former chief of general staff to appear before a civilian court as a defendant, charged with overseeing a coup plot to bring down the elected government.

Prosecutors have said Gen Basbug, 68, who served as Turkey's chief of general staff from 2008 until his retirement in 2010, became the leader of a terrorist organisation by ordering an internet propaganda campaign to undermine the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister.

Gen Basbug has been in pretrial detention since January.

The prosecution is asking for a prison sentence of up to 22 and a half years. Gen Basbug has denied the charges. The dozens of other defendants in the trial include several former generals.

As Gen Basbug entered the courtroom in a prison complex in Silivri outside Istanbul yesterday, civilian and milistary spectators in the room rose to their feet and greeted the former military chief with long applause, according to Turkish news reports.

Gen Basbug acknowledged the applause with a nod and a wave of his hand, the reports said, as one co-defendant, Hasan Igsiz, a former general who served under Gen Basbug in the general staff, held open the door to the defendants' enclosure for his former boss.

Ilkay Sezer, Gen Basbug's lawyer, asked the court to transfer his client's case to a special tribunal formed by the constitutional court for the trial of high-ranking officials. The court rejected the demand.

Gen Basbug is accused of being responsible for military-run websites designed to spread propaganda against the government, set up with a document known in the media as the internet Memorandum. Since last September, 30 suspects have been standing trial in connection with a total of 42 now-defunct websites, which also spread propaganda against minorities such as Greeks and Armenians.

The general staff in Ankara confirmed that the websites were set up under its auspices, but said the spread of anti-government propaganda was the result of individual officers overstepping their orders. But several defendants told the court the responsibility was in the hands of the military leadership, according to news reports. The trial is connected to a wide-ranging investigation against members of a suspected organisation, called Ergenekon, that prosecutors have said included coup-plotters inside and outside the armed forces.

Turkey's military, which pushed four governments from office in the past 50 years, has lost much of its political influence in recent years. In 2007, the strictly secularist armed forces threatened to unseat the Islamist-rooted government of Mr Erdogan, but a subsequent landslide victory by Mr Erdogan in a general election dealt a heavy blow to the military. Last year, Mr Erdogan scored another political victory when he forced almost the entire general staff to resign.

Opponents of Mr Erdogan have argued that the government was using special criminal courts like the one in Silivri for a campaign aimed at weakening the military. Yesterday, retired Col Hasan Ataman Yildirim, a defendant in the case involving Gen Basbug, turned to Turkish reporters in the courtroom and said the trial would not remain unanswered, in comments that included a veiled reference to a South American-style military intervention.

"Those behind this trial will one day be tried in an even bigger courtroom," Mr Yildirim said, according to news reports, "maybe even in a stadium".

 

tseibert@thenational.ae