Commenting on the arrest of former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ early Friday as part of an investigation into an anti-government plot, Turkish President Abdullah Gül has said everyone is equal before the law.
Responding to questions from reporters on the former military chief's arrest in the western province of Düzce on Friday, Gül stressed the principle of presumption of innocence, referring to the fact that Başbuğ has not yet been convicted. “I would like to emphasize first of all that nobody can be declared guilty without a conviction,” Gül said.
“We are witnessing a trial process taking place within the legal system. Everyone has responsibilities in the legal system. So, everyone is equal before the law,” Gül continued. The president also called for calm in the wake of Başbuğ's arrest. Başbuğ on Thursday testified 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).
The prosecutors referred him to a court after questioning him for more than seven hours and he was arrested early on Friday.
Retired Gen. Başbuğ, who retired in 2010, is the highest-ranking officer to be caught up in a widening probe into the Ergenekon network, an ultra-nationalist group accused by prosecutors of conspiring to topple the government. Başbuğ is facing charges of “gang leadership” and seeking to unseat the government by force.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a staunch critic of the Ergenekon probe, also commented on Başbuğ’s arrest on Friday. “I had earlier said that specially authorized courts [one of which arrested Başbuğ] are not ensuring justice and that they are courts that approve decisions made by the political authority [the government]. I am of the same opinion,” he said.
Opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli was more critical of Başbuğ’s arrest, terming the arrest “a grave situation.” “Portraying the [Turkish Armed Forces] TSK as the base of a terrorist organization will lead to chaos,” he said in a statement on Friday.
Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş said on Friday that Başbuğ’s arrest is not a common event and added: “Whatever position a person is in, someone who commits a crime should face the judiciary. However, this should not be used towards the ruling party’s political aims and interests.”
An initial comment from the government on the former military chief’s arrest came from Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, who said the government had worked for long years with the retired general. “Yes, we appointed İlker Başbuğ. That’s right. But the ongoing investigation concerns a technical issue. I do not know the details either. It is impossible to know what is in the case file. He was without a doubt a valuable colleague. He was appointed during our government and we worked with him for long years,” Atalay said.
Başbuğ served as Turkey’s chief of General Staff between 2008 and 2010. AK Party Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Tanrıverdi said later in the day that Başbuğ’s arrest “is a sign of democratization in Turkey.” “Everyone is equal in democracies; no one has a privilege. So, nobody can intervene in the judiciary,” he added. He also dismissed claims that the government played a role in his arrest, stressing that the judiciary is making independent decisions.