Ergenekon trial resumes with tension after one-month recess

Gendarmes used water cannon to disperse the supporters of the Ergenekon suspects as they attempted to enter the courtroom where the Ergenekon hearing was taking place. (Photo: AA, Bülent Doruk)

February 18, 2013, Monday/ 10:51:00

The trial of alleged members of Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal group accused of plotting to overthrow the government, resumed on Monday in the first hearing since last month when the panel of judges announced a recess to examine a lengthy report by a parliamentary commission on past coups in the country.

Security measures were tight inside and outside the Silivri Courthouse, where the Ergenekon trial is being heard by the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The crowd attending was not allowed to gather in large groups in front of the courthouse. They were instead asked to wait elsewhere. Among the supporters in the crowd were members of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), including deputies Umut Oran, Veli Ağababa, Mahmut Tanal, Musa Çam, Aykut Erdoğdu and the party's İstanbul branch Chairman Oğuz Kaan Salıcı, as well as members of the Workers' Party (İP), the Turkey Youth Union (TGB) and the Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD).

However, tension rose when the crowd refused to leave the courthouse. Some of them attempted to pass the barriers put up by gendarmerie officers deployed in the area for security, and the gendarmes responded by spraying the group with pressurized water.

The CHP's Tanal was rushed to an ambulance after he fell as he was trying to jump over the police barriers. Doctors from an ambulance rendered first aid and then took the deputy to a nearby hospital. Sources said one of Tanal's legs was broken.

Only first degree relatives of the suspects and deputies of the CHP and the İP were allowed inside the courtroom to observe the hearing.

There are 275 defendants in the case and 67 of them are under arrest. Fifty-two of the arrested suspects attended Monday's hearing; the others cited health reasons as an obstacle preventing them from attending the trial.

Monday's hearing was considered especially important as rumors had surfaced that the prosecutors would present their final opinion on the case, which meant that the Ergenekon trial was about to be concluded. However, presiding judge Hasan Hüseyin Özefe said the prosecutors would not present their final opinion and instead, the panel of judges would allow some suspects to provide defense testimony.

Özefe also asked the audience inside the courthouse to avoid any behavior that might disturb the course of the hearing. He said anyone who acted to the contrary would be sent from the room.

Former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ also attended the hearing to testify as a witness in the Ergenekon trial. Başbuğ is currently under arrest as part of a probe into propaganda websites allegedly established by the military to undermine the government. Başbuğ's lawyer, İlkay Sezer, asked the judges in the Ergenekon trial to hear the testimony of former military chief retired Gen. Işık Koşaner, former Naval Forces Commander retired Adm. Metin Ataç, former Gendarmerie Commander retired Gen. Atilla Işık and former Air Forces Commander retired Gen. Aydoğan Babaoğlu -- all of whom resigned in 2010 -- prior to the delivery of the prosecution's final opinion. All the retired generals were present in the courtroom.

The prosecutors objected to the request, and the panel of judges agreed with prosecutors.

Journalist Mustafa Balbay, one of the prime suspects in the trial, spoke to the audience as he entered the courtroom. He criticized a new reform package, dubbed the fourth judicial reform package, that is to be forwarded by the Ministry of Justice to Parliament for discussion soon. “I do not know what will come out of the fourth package. It will probably give birth to a fifth package. They [the government] have turned the law into matryoshka dolls,” he said.

At the 275th hearing in early January, the two-volume report of the parliamentary Coup and Memorandum Investigation Commission was submitted to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The commission heard the testimony of more than 100 witnesses before writing the final report. Among them were journalists, former and current deputies and other politicians, union leaders, civil society representatives and media heads, as well as victims of the coups. The report includes witness reports and makes suggestions about averting a new coup d'état in the country.

The court spent almost one month examining the report.

Prosecutors involved in the trial were planning to present their final opinions to the court in mid-December of last year but failed when many critics of the Ergenekon investigation, including CHP deputies, sparked chaos both inside and outside the courthouse. Some of the critics clashed with gendarmes outside the courthouse and inside, some others pounded on desks and chairs, preventing the judges from reading sections from the indictment. The hearing was recessed five times.

Also at Monday's trial, former İnönü University Rector Professor Fatih Hilmioğlu's brother and lawyer, Hayati Hilmioğlu, claimed that his brother was very ill and complained to the court that suspects who are not in good health are forced to stay in prison though they have not been convicted. “I cannot understand why you [the court] insist on keeping suspects who are in terminal condition in prison,” he said.

The judges, in response, decided to send Hilmioğlu to the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) for a medical check-up to see whether the professor was indeed in poor health. The trial was adjourned until March 11.

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