Turkey's ex-generals jailed 20 years for 2003 failed coup bid

Initial life sentences for the three men reduced to 20 years as plot failed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2012, 3:29am


A Turkish court yesterday handed down 20-year prison terms to three former generals accused of plotting to overthrow the government in 2003.

The three chief suspects in the trial, including alleged mastermind Cetin Dogan, who was formerly commander of the First Army, were initially given life sentences, but they were reduced on the grounds that the alleged plot had failed. The men have the right to appeal the landmark verdict, the first from a series of trials over alleged plots by the once-dominant Turkish army, which has been responsible for four coups in half a century.

Dubbed the "Sledgehammer" trial after a 2003 military exercise, it was the first such case tried in a civilian court. The two-year-long trial of 365 defendants including retired and active army officers wrapped up at the court in Silivri, near Istanbul, yesterday with the final testimonies of the last suspects accused of plotting against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). A total of 250 people have been held in custody since their arrest. Only 34 defendants were acquitted.

The trial, which began in December 2010, was unprecedented in its offensive against the military, seen as the guardians of Muslim-majority Turkey's secular political system. Pro-government circles have praised the trial as a step towards democracy, while critics have branded it a witch hunt to silence opposition.

The Turkish army overthrew three governments in 1960, 1971 and 1980. In 1997, it pressured an Islamic-leaning prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, into stepping down. Erbakan was the political mentor of current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The families of the suspects, who were present in court, chanted republican songs and shouted "Turkey is proud of you" in a show of solidarity, and the suspects saluted the crowd in return. Some of the defence lawyers also joined the protest.

Dogan testified on Thursday: "Here we see a process unfolding to make the soldiers … who give their lives for their country, pay the price of their commitment to the republic and its principles". He branded the trial "unfair and unlawful", claiming it had been launched by people with "a mentality considering all those who do not belong to their brotherhood as enemies".

Dogan's remarks were seen as an implicit reference to the AKP government and the influence on the judiciary of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen's religious movement.

Hundreds of suspects, including army officers, journalists and lawmakers, are being tried separately over their alleged roles in plots to topple the Islamic-rooted government.