Closely following those tried in the Ergenekon case, observers agree that since the time the Ergenekon armed terrorist organization was discovered, the alleged members of this clandestine criminal network were treated not only fairly but exceptionally well compared to defendants of other cases.
The Ergenekon gang was exposed after a series of raids were launched after the discovery of 27 hand grenades as well as many explosives in a shanty house connected to Oktay Yıldırım, a retired noncommissioned officer, in İstanbul's Ümraniye district in June 2007. Having traced the seized bombs and interrogated Yıldırım, police later detained tens of other suspects including retired four-star top commanders and both retired and active duty military officers of various ranks. As a result of the following raids, a large amount of arms and ammunition were found at places indicated on maps found at suspects' homes and offices. To date, three consecutive indictments have been prepared against the defendants, the last of which was recently presented to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court.
As the eight defendants from the Council of State shooting case are added to the list of defendants of the Ergenekon trial after the court merged the two trials, considering the strong links between them, the number of defendants in the Ergenekon trial has risen to 202, with one still at large. Defendants are accused of being leaders of, members of or aiding the Ergenekon armed terrorist organization -- charged with planning to topple the democratically elected government. Less than half of the defendants are imprisoned upon the demand of the court, taking into account the possibility that they may destroy evidence or escape abroad. The majority are not being held in custody; several who were released for reasons of health include retired top generals Şener Eruygur and Hurşit Tolon, former commanders of the gendarmerie and the First Army, respectively.
Another defendant released for medical care was Mehmet Haberal, rector of the private Başkent University. Sunday will be his 100th day in the hospital after he underwent an angiography. In contrast, the chair of İstanbul's 13th High Criminal Court, Judge Köksal Şengün, who had the same procedure done around the same time, was discharged from the hospital within only four days and returned to his job soon thereafter.
Media outlets who support Ergenekon suspects distort reality
Ayhan Sefer Üstün, spokesman for the parliamentary Constitutional Commission, said based on his experience as a jurist he could tell that in the Ergenekon trial the judges paid unprecedented attention to the rights of the defendants. “Time after time, even the threats addressed to the court's council by the defendants … were listened to with patience,” he asserted.
Agreeing with Üstün, Mehmet Ali Güveli from the Young Civilians, a pro-democratic NGO known for its firm support of the Ergenekon case, further argued that the Ergenekon trial is a model prosecution despite the loopholes and deficiencies in the judicial system. “Several defendants were quickly released from prison due to reported health reasons, which rarely happens in other cases. Take Hurşit Tolon for example. He was as healthy as an ox when he was in court on Monday. It was the same for Hasan Atilla Uğur and Levent Ersöz, both of whom are now in the hospital and out of prison because of their health problems. And what did their lawyers tell the court, explaining their clients' absences? That the summons did not reach them! And what does this mean? If they had received the summons, they would have come to the hearing. Well, I do not see any reference to their poor health here,” exclaimed Güveli concluding that “if some media outlets still claim that the defendants' rights are not being observed, then this is simply because they are newspapers and TV stations who support the Ergenekon suspects.”
Tolon, Uğur and Ersöz are among those who have been released from prison because of controversial health reports that claimed they were not fit to be in prison. While Tolon was recorded as being very healthy during the first trial of the second indictment on Monday, Uğur and Ersöz were not present before the judges, claiming that the court's summons did not reach them.
‘Not even 1 percent of the consideration shown to Ergenekon defendants is given … in other cases’
President of the Boğaziçi Lawyers Association Bilal Çalışır argued that the prosecutors and the judges of the case have so far shown the highest possible regard for the rights of the defendants since their first detention. “Let me say this very clearly: Not even 1 percent of the consideration shown to Ergenekon defendants is given to people standing trial in other cases. It is true that the Turkish judicial system has some problems, but I can say very confidently that jurists in this case are doing their best not to let people suffer,” he said.
Çalışır also said some ill-intentioned groups are incessantly trying to remove the current prosecutors and judges in the case for their own interest. “What they want to achieve is a public opinion favoring the inconclusiveness of the case and weaken the hands of the judges and prosecutors. The recent attempt by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors [HSYK] to remove them from the case was their latest attempt at such efforts,” he stated, comparing the situation to the Şemdinli case, where the HSYK disbarred the civilian prosecutor, Ferhat Sarıkaya, who prepared a number of indictments against army commanders linked to the notorious bombing assault in this southeastern district of Turkey.
Ahmet Faruk Ünsal, president of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUMDER), asserted that there have been no violations of human rights particular to this case but also cautioned responsible bodies be more prudent, considering the significance of these prosecutions for the country. “If we take into account the fact that this case will be a model for trying crimes of that size in the future, I think prosecutors and judges should be even more prudent in their method of handling it. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that there has been a deliberate violation of defendants' rights in the trial,” he noted.