The court said the suspects may attempt to flee the country or obscure evidence related to the case if freed from prison. Presiding Judge Köksal Şengün objected to the decision. Ergenekon is a clandestine criminal network charged with working to overthrow the government by instigating large-scale chaos in society.
Dozens of its suspected members are currently in jail, accused of terror charges. Two of its prime suspects, Haberal and Balbay, ran in the elections as candidates from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and won seats in Parliament. However it was not clear whether they would be allowed to enter Parliament as they were under arrest.
The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, where they are standing trial, had to decide whether to release the suspects from prison or keep them under arrest. The suspects stand accused of crimes against the constitutional order. The court underlined in its reasoned decision on Thursday that the suspects are charged with crimes mentioned in article 14 and 83 of the Constitution, which concern crimes committed against the constitutional order. The court also said individual rights and freedoms cannot be used for actions to abolish the constitutional order of the Turkish state.
The CHP administration convened for an extraordinary meeting to evaluate the court decision. No official statement was available from the administration by the time Today’s Zaman went to print. Speaking to a news broadcaster, CHP Deputy Chairman Engin Altay described the İstanbul court’s decision as a “blow to Parliament and Turkish democracy.” “I was not expecting such a decision. I am shocked. This is disrespectful to the national will. It is not fair to keep people who have not been convicted in prison. The existence of courts does not mean the existence of justice in a place. I wish the court did not make such a decision,” he said, adding that the CHP would use all legal means to object to the decision. In an earlier statement, Gürsel Tekin, another CHP deputy chairman, said his party would “do what is necessary” if the İstanbul court does not release Haberal and Balbay. However, he did not clearly say what the CHP would do.
İstanbul public prosecutors Mehmet Ali Pekgüzel and Nihat Taşkın on Tuesday asked the 13th İstanbul High Criminal Court to reject the request for the release of Haberal and Balbay.
Article 83 of the Turkish Constitution, which governs parliamentary immunity, states: “A deputy who is accused of having committed a crime before or after the election cannot be prosecuted without the consent of Parliament, cannot be investigated and cannot be tried.” Deputies are immune to prosecution, except in cases when an investigation was launched before the deputies were elected.
The prosecutors indicated that there has been no change in the evidence and therefore demanded that the request for the release of the suspects be rejected.
The İstanbul court’s decision dashed the hopes of both Haberal and Balbay to avoid trial during the period they would serve in Parliament. In Turkey, parliamentary elections are held every four years. Balbay’s lawyer told reporters that he will appeal the decision.
Haberal was arrested in 2009 as part of the Ergenekon investigation. Only a few hours after his imprisonment, the professor was hospitalized due to complaints of chest pains. He stayed at the İstanbul University Cardiology Institute for several months and was transferred to the Mehmet Akif Ersoy Cardiovascular Disease Hospital in February after İstanbul police discovered that the conditions of imprisonment were being violated in Haberal’s hospital room at the institute. The prosecution has demanded two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for Haberal. He is accused of membership in a terrorist organization that planned to overthrow the government.
Balbay, the former Ankara representative of the Cumhuriyet daily, was also arrested in 2009 and has remained under arrest since then as an Ergenekon suspect. He stands accused of “inciting the people to armed rebellion against the government” as a member of Ergenekon.
Now all eyes are on the İstanbul 10th High Criminal Court, which is hearing the Sledgehammer coup case, and the Diyarbakır 3rd High Criminal Court, which is hearing the case against suspects in the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) trial. The former court is set to decide whether to release retired Gen. Engin Alan, a Sledgehammer suspect, from prison, while the latter is set to decide whether to release five suspects in the KCK trial. Both Alan and the five KCK suspects were elected deputies on June 12.