An indictment seeking aggravated life imprisonment for former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ on coup charges was accepted by an İstanbul court on Wednesday.
Başbuğ was put behind bars by an İstanbul court after he testified last month as a suspect in an investigation into an alleged Internet campaign to discredit Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Turkey has seen retired generals jailed in coup cases over the past few years, but Gen. Başbuğ, who retired in 2010, is the highest-ranking officer to be involved in legal proceedings thus far. Başbuğ was placed in Silivri Prison, where most of the coup suspects have been sent.
The indictment, submitted to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court last month, accuses Başbuğ of “establishing or administering a terrorist organization” and “seeking to unseat the government of the Republic of Turkey by force.” In his defense, Başbuğ denied all the charges against him. The investigation in which Başbuğ is implicated concerns allegations that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) set up 42 websites to disseminate anti-government propaganda. Dozens of suspects, including Başbuğ, are currently accused of having started an online propaganda campaign against the AK Party with the goal of instilling in the public a fear that the government was attempting to instate a religious order based on Islamic law.
According to the 39-page indictment in which Başbuğ is the sole suspect, the ex-military chief confirmed allegations that he, as the land forces commander at the time, met with Constitutional Court Deputy President Osman Paksüt in secret on March 4, 2008, at the Land Forces Command headquarters.
The meeting took place seven days after a constitutional amendment regarding the wearing of headscarves in universities, sponsored in Parliament by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), was challenged at the Constitutional Court and 13 days before a suit against the AK Party was filed with the court, seeking to shut it down over allegations that it had become a focal point of anti-secular activity.
When it was exposed later in 2008 that this meeting, which took place at a critical time for Turkey, raised suspicions about the influence of the Turkish military on the court’s rulings.
The indictment also stated that the anti-government content of the propaganda websites, which mostly warned of the threat of religious fundamentalism in the country, was used as evidence in the AK Party closure case launched in 2008.
The indictment included copies of news articles posted by the military’s anti-government websites.
The 39-page document also stated that the suspects of an action plan case had carried out psychological warfare against the government under Başbuğ’s orders. According to claims, the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism, a suspected military plot to discredit the governing AK Party and the faith-based Gülen movement, was posted on a number of websites that are believed to have been set up by the General Staff to support TSK propaganda campaigns against civilian groups and the government.
The two cases, the propaganda websites case and the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism case, were merged in August by the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The content of the websites indicates they were used as part of the action plan.
Prosecutor Cihan Kansız, who prepared the indictment, noted in the document that propaganda activities taking place at the General Staff against the government are similar to the anti-government propaganda employed by media organs affiliated with the Workers’ Party (İP). The leader of the İP, Doğu Perinçek, is a key jailed suspect in Ergenekon, a shadowy crime network alleged to have links within the state and is suspected of plotting to topple the government.
In addition, during his interrogation, Başbuğ also backpedalled from his remarks in 2010, denying the existence of assassination plots against two admirals, according to the indictment. In 2009, seven naval lieutenants were arrested on charges of plotting to assassinate two admirals, Metin Ataç and Eşref Uğur Yiğit. During an interview with the Haber Türk daily in February 2010, Başbuğ expressed strong disbelief over assassination plots against two admirals at the Naval Forces Command, calling news reports on the plot a “smear campaign” against the TSK.
“What did they [newspapers] write for several months? They wrote that naval forces commanders would be assassinated. What was their intention? They implied that naval officers devise plots against their own commanders. They wanted the public to believe these claims, didn’t they? And what happened? Five indictments have been prepared thus far. Do any of them mention the assassination plot? Who will be called to account for this? This is a shame. Enough is enough. They are pushing the limits of our patience,” he said in the interview.
However, during his interrogation by prosecutors, Başbuğ said: “There is mention of assassination plots [against admirals] in the indictments. [In the interview] there were some wrong statements. I accept this. There are some allegations about the assassination plots in the indictments; however, I see that no case was filed against individuals [involved in these plots]. What I meant was this. I did not mean to downplay the allegations in the indictments.”
The indictment also revealed that Başbuğ had conveyed his predictions about the 2007 presidential elections to the then-leader of the Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) through his unofficial media representative and had urged him not to attend the presidential voting in Parliament if the AK Party nominated a figure disliked by the TSK. This was revealed thanks to a DVD seized by police during searches of the office and home of Mustafa Levent Göktaş, a retired colonel arrested in 2009 on charges of membership in Ergenekon. According to this DVD, Başbuğ’s media representative, an academic identified only by her initials N.Y., took Başbuğ’s note about presidential elections to Mumcu.
Along with other parties, Mumcu’s ANAVATAN boycotted the presidential elections in 2007 when the AK Party nominated then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül about whose secular credentials the TSK had suspicions. The decision by the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court to accept the indictment against Başbuğ came on the heels of another decision by the Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday to reject a request for Başbuğ to be tried by the Supreme State Council instead of a specially authorized court. Başbuğ’s lawyer, İlkay Sezer, filed a request last month for the trial of his client to take place at the Supreme State Council (Yüce Divan), a title the Constitutional Court assumes when trying ministers, prime ministers, chiefs of General Staff and other high-ranking bureaucrats.
Evaluating the lawyer’s request, the office said on Tuesday that the charges leveled against Başbuğ are not related to his profession, but are “terrorism charges.” The office added that the authority to try Başbuğ lies with specially authorized courts and rejected the request.