Ergenekon suspects released amid chaos over legal authority between courts

Photo: Ergenekon suspects released amid chaos over legal authority between courts / Turkey

Turkey has seen the release of prominent suspects in the Ergenekon coup plot case from a prison in Silivri. However, controversy has emerged over the legal authority for the releases as the court overseeing the Ergenekon case rejects the release decisions, Hurriyet Daily News reported.

The Istanbul 21th High Criminal Court ordered the release of three prominent Ergenkon suspects, journalist Tuncay Ozkan, alleged gang leader Sedat Peker, retired Col. Levent Goktash. Hours later, retired Col. Dursun Cicek, lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz, and former special operations officer Ibrahim Shahin were also released by a separate court. Istanbul 8th High Criminal Court released Prof. Yalcin Kucuk. Kucuk was also acquitted from the OdaTV case late 2013 but was still in prison. Other suspects released were Lt. Mehmet Ali Celebi, Hasan Igsiz, Shener Eruygur, Merdan Yanardag and Alaaddin Sevim.

Lawyer Alparslan Aslan, identified during the Ergenekon trial as the assailant in the Turkish Council of State attack in 2006 that killed a judge, was also released. Gokhan Bilgin, son of Judge Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin killed in the attack eight years ago, reacted to the releases. "If they are giving him [Arslan] his freedom, then they should give me my father. I want my father back," Bilgin said in his first reaction to the release.

Cicek, whose conviction in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) trial was upheld after an appeal, will not be freed, while Peker's release from prison is also uncertain as he is also serving a previous sentence.

'What is my crime?'

In his first remarks after being freed, Ozkan, one of the most high-profile figures of the case, slammed the court that dealt with the case. "I'm asking, what is my crime? Because the prosecutor said during the trial that I was the one who knew the best what my crime is," he said.

Earlier, the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, a former specially authorized court, ruled that the continued detention of some Ergenekon suspects while the appeal process was continuing was in line with Turkish legislation.

The suspects included retired Brig. Gen. Veli Kucuk, considered one of the main suspects in the case, Professor Yalcin Kucuk and former Workers' Party (İP) leader Dogu Perincek.

The specially authorized courts were recently abolished by a new law approved by the Parliament. Main opposition Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu expressed his satisfaction after Ozkan's release, adding that he expected all convicted in the case the be released as well. The releases were made possible with the change in the country's anti-terrorism laws, which reduced the maximum pre-trial detention period from 10 years to five years. The lawyers applied to the Istanbul 21th High Criminal Court for the releases, instead of the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, after Parliament recently abolished the special authorized courts.

Court rejects releases

The Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which handled the Ergenekon trial, rejected this decision, saying Parliament did not have the authority to abolish the special courts and adding that an application to the Constitutional Court had been filed for the annulation of the legal arrangement. It also claimed, as the court that dealt with the case, that it still maintained authority on deciding about the detentions of the convicts. Meanwhile, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) slammed the Istanbul 13th Criminal Court for "extorting authority."

"I don't think a court that has been abolished has the authority to make a ruling. The court can from now on decide if it wants to transfer the files at hand, it can prepare the detailed reasoning of a verdict given, but it cannot rule any longer," chairman of the first chamber of the HSYK, Ibrahim Okur, told Anadolu Agency.

Okur also said the Constitutional Court would likely rule on non-jurisdiction, as the law on special courts does not affect any ongoing trial dealt with by the Istanbul 13th Criminal Court. He also stressed that Article 142 of the Constitution gave the necessary authority to Parliament to legislate regarding the establishment of courts.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said "there are releases after the convictions." "The maximum period of detention is calculated as the period between the date of arrest and date of conviction. The Constitutional Court has such decisions. I don't know if the court has rejected [releases] on this ground. We have to see the justification for the rejection," Bozdag said.

Main opposition Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu expressed his satisfaction after Ozkan's release, adding that he expected all suspects in the case be released as well.

The development comes days after former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Bashbug was released upon a ruling from the Constitutional Court that his imprisonment was a "rights violation," on the grounds that the detailed reasoning regarding his conviction was not issued until seven months after the verdict.

Bashbug, convicted to life imprisonment, said after the release that he expected all officers convicted in the case to be released on the same grounds. "My release is just a start ... If [other convicts are not released] it will not have any significance whatsoever," he said.

The Istanbul High Criminal Court in Silivri, which reviewed the recent release demands, is the court that dealt with the Ergenekon trial and was in charge of issuing the detailed reasoning.

The Constitutional Court said in its ruling on an individual application from Bashbug that, due to the delay in the release of the reasoning, his conviction could not be taken to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

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