Suspects in coup, terror cases seek release from prison under new law
The former Ankara bureau chief of the Cumhuriyet daily, Balbay, was arrested by order of the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court over links to the Ergenekon gang in 2009. (Photo: AA)
Dozens of suspects who stand accused of various charges as part of ongoing investigations into coup plots and terrorist organizations as well as criminal gangs continue to appeal to relevant courts via their lawyers to benefit from a new law enshrined in the third judicial reform package, demanding their release from prison.
Lawyers claim that the newly endorsed reform package allows the suspects to be released from jails pending trial. Among those who are expecting to be released are nine deputies who are in prison. Jailed CHP deputies, journalist Mustafa Balbay and Professor Mehmet Haberal, and retired Gen. Engin Alan of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) face coup charges, while six Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies in jail face charges of membership in the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the urban branch of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). They were elected to Parliament during last year’s general elections, and their nomination to run for Parliament led to a widespread controversy as they were already in jail.
News sources said the courts would decide about the requests for the releases next week.
The CHP expressed belief that its jailed deputies will be released from prison soon. The party’s spokesperson Birgül Ayman Güler told reporters on Friday that the CHP would call on Parliament for an extraordinary meeting if the deputies are set free. Parliament is on a summer recess now. The spokesperson did not elaborate, but the extraordinary meeting would probably be aimed to allow the jailed deputies to take their parliamentary oaths.
The third judicial reform package, which was adopted in Parliament earlier this week, curtailed the powers of Turkey’s courts.
Specially authorized courts dealing with coup and terror cases were abolished and replaced with regional terrorism courts. The package said special courts will continue to oversee existing coup and terror cases until a final verdict is reached. Some of the cases currently being heard by special courts include Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal network accused of plotting to overthrow the government, Balyoz (Sledgehammer), a suspected coup plot believed to have been devised in 2003 with the aim of unseating the government through violent acts, and the KCK. Another suspect who wishes to be released from prison pending trial thanks to the new reform package is ex-Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ. The ex-military chief’s lawyer asked an İstanbul high criminal court on Thursday to set his client free.
There were earlier concerns among Turkey’s jurists that the reform package would result in severe results in Turkey, reversing democratic achievements. They also said hundreds of gang members, drug traffickers and terrorists and terror suspects might be released under the new package. Several government authorities, however, refuted jurists’ claims, saying that the reform package would not pave the way for the release of these suspects. Yet, the existing situation suggests the contrary.
Gen. Başbuğ, who retired in 2010, is the highest-ranking military officer to be caught up in a probe into the Ergenekon group. He is a prime suspect in an investigation into an alleged Internet campaign to discredit the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party), and he is facing charges of leadership of an illegal organization.
The AK Party has long stood opposed to the release of jailed deputies from prison, but gave the green light for the releases after the adoption of the third judicial reform package in Parliament. Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, formerly an AK Party deputy, said the reform package enabled the use of modern devices to facilitate the monitoring of people under arrest, such as electronic tags. “Courts can now use contemporary measures such as monitoring deputies in prison. I hope that courts have understood this message given by Parliament,” he said.
In addition, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ stated that the monitoring of suspects with modern devices had not been widely used previously, but there is currently no legal obstacle to such monitoring. He said the decision to rule for the release of suspects belongs to the courts.
Jurists say the new judicial reform package could lead to the release of nearly 800 suspects who are currently under arrest on accusations of organized crime, terror, drug trafficking and crimes against the constitutional order. In the case of such releases, a number of subversive plans to save the suspects -- which were revealed recently with the exposure of several voice recordings allegedly featuring the voices of some of those suspects -- will have been accomplished. In the recordings, the suspects make mention of alleged plans by Parliament to make a number of amendments in Turkey’s laws to release them from prison. The expectations of some coup and terrorism suspects of being released from prison were made clear in two voice recordings that were posted online in May. In one recording, Rear Adm. Cem Aziz Çakmak, a jailed Balyoz suspect, allegedly said that military officers under arrest would seek revenge for the case after they were released from prison, hurting many, including children. In an earlier voice recording, a person believed to be Rear Adm. Fatih llgar was heard saying that coup suspects in prison were set to be released in around two months thanks to a bill to be voted on in Parliament soon, and the suspects would start a civil war to retaliate against the government for their arrest.
Also on Thursday, lawyers of some of the BDP’s jailed deputies appealed to courts for the release of their clients. Selma Irmak, Kemal Aktaş, Faysal Sarıyıldız, İbrahim Ayhan, Hatip Dicle and Gülser Yıldırım are jailed BDP deputies, who are accused of being part of the outlawed KCK organization, and the court is demanding up to 15 years imprisonment. Dicle’s deputy status was stripped after his election.
In another court hearing at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, 35 Ergenekon suspects, including ret. Col. Dursun Çiçek, journalist Tuncay Özkan, Hurşit Tolon and Labor Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek asked to be released from prison pending trial. In his request for release, Özkan likened suspects standing trial in the Ergenekon case to “pigeons.” “If you do not want to set free the white pigeons from the door opened by Parliament, then it is your responsibility,” he told the court.
Disorder prevails in courthouses in wake of new amendments
The abolition of specially authorized courts with the adoption of the third judicial reform package has brought disorder to courthouses, with police officers confused over which prosecutors to take newly detained suspects to for interrogation and prosecutors unsure which courts to refer suspects for arrest.
On Thursday, the Çağlayan Courthouse in İstanbul was chaotic. Weary of the chaos, several prosecutors and judges at the courthouse applied to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to take measures. Judges and prosecutors asked the board to appoint new judges and prosecutors to the newly established regional terrorism courts to overcome the chaos in courthouses.
The chaos in courthouses drew the ire of several jurists, who said the government was too fast in preparing and adopting the third judicial reform package against special courts. For them, the government failed to make the required amendments to avoid any problem that would stem from the abolition of special courts. Retired public prosecutor Gültekin Avcı said prosecutors are now unclear which court to send suspects to or arrest because the legal system is now vague. He also said the affects of the new package on the ongoing cases are also unclear.
Reşat Petek, another retired prosecutor, agreed that the government hurried to pass the reform package in Parliament, and for this reason, it did not think much about the problems that would result from the package. He said the HSYK should appoint new judges and prosecutors to new regional terrorism courts to fix the problems stemming from the new reform package.