The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is planning to apply to the Constitutional Court for a retrial in a controversial case from 2008 in which the ruling party was found guilty of having become a center for anti-secular activities.
“I've instructed my colleagues, [and] they have been working [on the issue],” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on his way to Turkmenistan last week. “We will do what is necessary after the detailed verdict [of the Ergenekon court case is announced],” he added.
The ruling of the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which, in the Ergenekon case, recently convicted leading military figures including a former chief of general staff, İlker Başbuğ, for having tried to topple the AK Party, paved the way for the government to argue its innocence in the case in which it was found guilty five years ago.
In March 2008, Abdurrahman Yalçinkaya, then chief public prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, submitted an indictment to the Constitutional Court demanding that the AK Party be closed down on the grounds that it had become a focal point for anti-secular activities. The indictment also sought a political ban of five years for 71 party members, including Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, who was also an AK Party member at the time. The Constitutional Court ruled against the closure of the ruling party, although six judges out of a total of 11 voted in favor of the closure.
According to the law regulating the Constitutional Court at the time of the ruling, at least seven members were required to vote in favor for a political party to be closed down. But as 10 of the judges also agreed that the AK Party had become a center for anti-secular activities, the court ruled that the AK Party should be deprived of funds from the state treasury, which all political parties that are represented in Parliament officially receive in accordance with their number of deputies.
Until a referendum that the majority of Turkish people approved in 2010, it was not possible under the law regulating the Constitutional Court for a case to be reheard, as the verdicts of the court were considered to be absolute. Following the referendum, the law regulating the court was amended in a major way, making it possible for the court to rehear a case.
“Should the court believe [once the detailed verdict of the İstanbul court that heard the Ergenekon case is released] the evidence formerly submitted to convict the AK Party was flawed enough to render the previous ruling invalid, then the court may decide to rehear the case,” Ergun Özbudun, a professor of constitutional law at İstanbul Şehir University, told Today's Zaman. “It's the Constitutional Court that will evaluate the evidence,” he added.
The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which sentenced former Chief of General Staff Başbuğ to an aggravated life sentence for having tried to topple the government, ruled, at the beginning of the month, that some of the news reports used in the indictment against the AK Party were the black propaganda of some websites financially supported by the military at the time Başbuğ served as top commander of the Turkish military, a ruling which might render at least some of the charges against the AK Party invalid.
The makeup of the Constitutional Court, which now consists of 17 members including the chairman, has drastically changed since the referendum in 2010. As a good number of the present members of the court were named by the AK Party, the ruling party has a high chance that its conviction will be lifted, should the Constitutional Court agree to rehear the case, as is expected.
Since it came to power at the end of 2002, the AK Party has been at odds with the secularist establishment, including the judiciary and the military, over the role of religion in the officially secular but predominantly Muslim country. After the then-Chief Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals Yalçınkaya had submitted his application to the Constitutional Court, critics said the court case was a judicial coup against a democratically-elected party. The AK Party had been re-elected with a 47 percent of the vote in 2007 and denied charges of violating the secular constitution by supporting Islamist activities.