The first hearing of the new trial merging all existing investigations into Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal network which has alleged links within the state and is suspected of plotting to topple the government, began on Monday with 256 suspects standing trial.
The hearing took place at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court at the Silivri Prison Complex.
The court has combined all 16 Ergenekon cases and indictments on the basis that there are many links and parallels between the cases and suspects may be connected to one another.
Monday's hearing was attended by 42 out of the 61 jailed suspects, including Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Mustafa Balbay, retired Gen. Hasan Iğsız, retired Gen. Veli Küçük and journalist Tuncay Özkan. Jailed suspects, including retired Gens. İlker Başbuğ and Hurşit Tolon, CHP deputy Mehmet Haberal, retired Col. Dursun Çiçek and Workers' Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek, did not attend the hearing.
At the beginning of the hearing, presiding Judge Hasan Hüseyin Özese noted that the first and second Ergenekon trials had been merged. Lawyers for some of the suspects told the court that they want to speak against the merger decision. In return, Özese said the merger decision is based on procedural grounds, and the lawyers of the defendants have the right to appeal the merger ruling.
Özese also announced a series of new disciplinary rules which ban suspects from leaving the courtroom without permission and the exchange of CDs or memory sticks between the suspects and the audience during the hearings.
He said legal action will be taken against those who fail to comply with these rules.
The number of seats allocated for suspects were increased in the courtroom due to the merger ruling.
The first investigation into Ergenekon was launched on June 12, 2007, when 27 hand grenades were seized from a house in İstanbul's Ümraniye district belonging to Oktay Yıldırım, a retired noncommissioned army officer currently under arrest in relation to the case. However, the existence of Ergenekon only came to light after retired Brig. Gen. Küçük was detained in January 2008. A number of documents regarding the structure of the organization were seized from Küçük's house during police raids.
The initial hearing in the first Ergenekon case started at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court on Oct. 28, 2008. The first probe was then followed by the second and third investigations into the organization in 2009, when the court merged three cases into one main case. Apart from the three main Ergenekon cases, there were also 16 other Ergenekon-related cases conducted separately, such as the cases of the 2006 murder of a Council of State judge, the Action Plan Against Reactionaryism and an anti-government Internet campaign. The court had ruled against merging all these individual cases within the main Ergenekon case on various occasions since 2009.
With the cases now merged, the judges will have a chance to assess all Ergenekon cases together and to see the overall structure of the alleged terrorist organization. The prosecutors will prepare only one closing statement regarding the Ergenekon case suspects for delivery to the court. The court will not have to operate separately for each case, which will save time in the judiciary process, meaning the final ruling will arrive more quickly. After the prosecutors' statements, the court will hear the testimonies of all 256 Ergenekon case suspects and deliver its final ruling. After the court's final ruling, the Supreme Court of Appeals will have the chance to assess all evidence in a single file, which will ease the decision-making process if the high court's ruling is challenged.