Chaos prevents presentation of final opinions in Ergenekon trial

Gendarmes clashed with supporters of the Ergenekon suspects on Thursday in front of the Silivri Prison Complex after they attempted to enter the courtroom, where the Ergenekon hearing was taking place. (Photo: AA, Yakup Çabuk)

December 13, 2012, Thursday/ 11:02:00 / ISTANBUL

Prosecutors involved in the Ergenekon trial were planning to present their final opinion to the panel of judges hearing the case against the criminal network, but they failed to do so because of chaos both inside and outside the courthouse.

The hearing was considered important as rumors had surfaced that prosecutors would present their legal opinion in the case, which meant that the Ergenekon trial was about to be concluded.

Hundreds of critics of the Ergenekon trial flocked to the Silivri Prison Complex in the early morning hours. They were largely made up of members of the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Workers' Party (İP), the Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD) and several civil society groups. They were carrying Turkish flags and chanting slogans criticizing the historic case. “Turkey is secular and will remain secular!,” “The Justice and Development Party [AK Party] will have to answer to the people!” and “Shoulder-to-shoulder against fascism!” chanted the crowds.

Some of them clashed with gendarmes deployed around the prison complex for security reasons, and gendarmes dispersed the group with batons and tear gas. CHP İstanbul deputy Gürsel Tekin was among those affected by the tear gas.

“These courts are like Russian dolls. They may look like different cases and different courts, but they are all the same. They are carrying out a political mission,” CHP deputy leader Umut Oran, who was attending the hearing, told Reuters.

A stampede at the entry of the courthouse prevented some suspects from taking their seats in the courtroom in time. A total of 71 suspects, 42 of whom are under arrest, attended the trial. Among the arrested suspects were former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, Professor Mehmet Haberal and journalists Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan.

The audience applauded the suspects when they entered the courtroom.

CHP Deputy Chairmen Oran, Bülent Tezcan, Gökhan Günaydın, CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Muharrem İnce and chairwoman Emine Ülker Tarhan were among the audience. A group of 20 lawyers from the İstanbul Bar Association, led by Ümit Kocasakal, also attended the trial proceedings.

Presiding Judge Hasan Hüseyin Özese warned the large audience inside the courtroom, saying anyone who disturbed the course of the trial would be sent out. “I ask everyone to be silent. We will continue the trial without the audience if necessary. A trial is taking place here. Avoid any behavior that might disrupt the trial,” he said.

However, the audience protested the judge, saying they would not leave the courthouse without taking the Ergenekon suspects with them, and Özese ordered the audience to leave the courtroom. The trial continued after a nearly half-an-hour break.The CHP's Oran shared a photo of the trial on Twitter in violation of an article of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Article 286 of the TCK stipulates that capturing or recording moments during a trial and sharing it with third parties is a crime that requires up to six months in prison. Lawyer Bülent Demir said Oran may face legal action, and his parliamentary immunity will not protect him from being prosecuted.

The CHP's İnce threatened a lieutenant colonel who wanted to stop a deputy from marching next to the lawyers, saying, “Do not touch him. Or I will break your hand!” Then Vural Ergül, the lawyer of one of the suspects, started chanting slogans in favor of the suspects, and the presiding judge ordered a second break to the trial, and asked Ergül to be sent out of the courtroom.

The trial began after the break, but Özese announced another break after lawyers started banging on their desks and chairs when one of the judges in the trial started reading a section from the indictment. Özese warned the lawyers to stop the noise, and ordered a third break when lawyers said they would not listen to the indictment. As the judge announced the break, retired generals Başbuğ, Tolon and Hasan Iğsız left the courtroom.

The prosecutors were set to present their final statements later on Thursday. Once prosecutors have summed up their case, the defendants will have the right to a final statement that could still take months given their numbers.

Attempts by the audience to disrupt the trial proceedings were harshly criticized by jurists, who said the audience committed a crime by not allowing the court to move forward with the trial. According to retired public prosecutor Reşat Petek, the audience violated the principles of the law by forcing the doors of the courtroom, by chanting slogans in a manner to prevent the judges from moving on with the trial and by taking photos from the courtroom and sharing them with others.

Retired Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals Ahmet Gündel said the CHP and the İP are cooperating in attempts to block some major criminal cases, including Ergenekon and the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot. “Looking at their cooperation, it seems that they are acting like a single political party. This is thought provoking. People [supporting the CHP] should have a look at what the party they are voting for is actually doing,” he said.

Ergenekon is an alleged clandestine criminal network charged with plotting to overthrow the government through creating large-scale chaos. There are 275 defendants in the case and 66 of them are in custody pending a verdict. Those accused of being members include politicians, academics, journalists and retired army officers.

The existence of Ergenekon, a behind-the-scenes network attempting to use social and psychological engineering to shape the country in accordance with its own ultranationalist ideology, has long been suspected, but the current investigation into the group began only in 2007 when a house in İstanbul's Ümraniye district that was being used as an arms depot was discovered by police. The investigation was expanded to reveal elements of the deep state.

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