Reactions were plentiful on Tuesday against the release from prison of dozens of suspects in the historic Ergenekon trial under a newly passed law that abolished specially authorized courts and reduced the maximum period of detention before a final verdict on the appeal to five years as new releases under the law continue, Today's Zaman reported.
President Abdullah Gül criticized on Tuesday lengthy detention periods and said they have turned into a "kind of punishment" for suspects. "All of us should seriously think twice if cases cannot be concluded in five years even though the suspects have been captured," Gül said, adding that the problem should be fixed.
Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy Şamil Tayyar, on the other hand, voiced clear opposition to the releases. In messages posted on Twitter, the deputy said it was a "judicial scandal" to release the Ergenekon suspects who had been sentenced to life imprisonment. "If you evaluate the situation from this point, then not a single person should be kept in prison," he stated.
Tayyar also harshly criticized Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ for not keeping his promise that suspects in coup and terrorism cases, including Ergenekon, would not benefit from the law. "The justice minister had said Ergenekon suspects would not be released under the law. Mr. Minister, have we been deceived?" he asked.
Dozens of suspects in the case against the Ergenekon terrorist group were handed down lengthy prison terms by an İstanbul high criminal court in 2013, but the sentences have not been upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
On Tuesday, the İstanbul 21st High Criminal Court ruled for the release of Ergenekon suspects retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, former Deputy Chairman of the Kuvayi Milliye (National Forces) Association Durmuş Ali Özoğlu and Boğaç Kaan Murathan. Tolon, who stands as a suspect in the brutal killing of three Christians in Malatya in 2007 known as the Zirve Publishing House massacre, will remain in prison. This was followed by the release of retired Gen. Tuncer Kılıç, retired Gen. Nusret Taşdeler, Lt. Col. Mustafa Dönmez, retired Lt. Gen. Mehmet Eröz and former Editor-in-Chief of ultranationalist Aydınlık newsweekly Deniz Yıldırım, all Ergenekon suspects. Late on Tuesday, the court ruled to release Ergenekon prime suspect Veli Küçük. Along with Küçük, other suspects Levent Ersöz, Serdar Öztürk and Fuat Selvi were also released.
As the basis for the releases, the court cited Law No. 6526, which went to effect after being published in the Official Gazette last week. According to the law, anyone who has been in prison for five years without a final verdict on their case will be released. Specially authorized courts were also abolished under the law.
The Justice Ministry issued a written statement on Tuesday in which it said the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which on Monday refused to release more than 30 suspects in the Ergenekon case, has no authority for such a refusal. "That court has no authority other than writing a reasoned decision for the sentences handed down to Ergenekon suspects," the ministry said.
The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, while turning down the requests to release some Ergenekon suspects, said it was against the Constitution to abolish specially authorized courts. "Courts are established by Parliament. But a decision to abolish the courts belongs to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors [HSYK]. The fact that Parliament has abolished specially authorized courts is in violation of the Constitution," the court stated. The court also said it applied to the Constitutional Court to rule on the validity of Parliament's move to abolish those courts. Specially authorized courts dealt, in particular, with terrorism-related cases, rather than having those cases tried in high criminal courts.
The Justice Ministry, however, said the court does not have the authority or duty to appeal to the Constitutional Court against the law.
The HSYK on Tuesday announced that an investigation has been launched into the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, commenting on the releases, said the Ergenekon suspects had been released from prison pending trial, but they had not been acquitted of the charges attributed to them. "I cannot say there was no coup plan or attempt [against the government]. I cannot bury my head in the sand," he said, adding, "There are some people who have been saved [from a trial], but this will not happen."
The prime minister also expressed his wish that former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ be tried at the Supreme State Council instead of a high criminal court.
Başbuğ, who was arrested in 2012 on coup charges as part of the Ergenekon case, was released from a life sentence following a court decision on March 7.
The AK Party's Burhan Kuzu said his party would not be happy with people being detained in prison if they are not guilty but the fact that some Ergenekon suspects are pretending as though they have been acquitted is wrong.
Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Gürsel Tekin had mixed reactions about the releases of the suspects under Law No. 6526. "Some of the releases are pleasing, but some others hurt people's conscience," he said, referring to those criminals who were set free even though they are accused of committing murders.
For Grand Unity Party (BBP) Chairman Mustafa Destici, the release of suspects in the Ergenekon case will have "heavy costs" for Turkey. "The judiciary has been damaged. A big blow has been dealt to the independence of the judiciary. There is a lack of confidence in the judicial system. The justice system has been dragged into major chaos by the government," Destici stated. He also said the releases are "covered amnesty" for Ergenekon suspects.
According to Felicity Party (SP) leader Mustafa Kamalak, the law that abolished specially authorized courts and reduced the maximum detention period to five years has caused unprecedented chaos of the law in Turkey. "The government is confused and does not know what to do. Courts have to make decisions according to the law and not the wind [of injustice] that is currently blowing," he said. Kamalak also stated that the AK Party government was once working to win votes by arresting military generals and is now working to win votes by setting those generals free. "This is chaos of law," he noted.
The son of late Council of State judge Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin, Gökhan Özbilgin, harshly reacted to the release of his father's murderer under the newly passed law which reduced the maximum period of detention to five years. Judge Özbilgin was fatally shot in an armed attack on the Council of State in 2006. A high criminal court in İstanbul on Monday decided to release the hit man, Alparslan Arslan. Arslan was captured red-handed shortly after the attack and has remained in prison since then.
"If you give the murderer freedom, you must give my father to me," said Gökhan Özbilgin in protest of the court decision. "My father has been shot dead once again today," he complained.
The release of the Ergenekon suspects from prison pending trial has brought to mind a voice recording posted online in May of 2012 that allegedly featured the voice of Rear Adm. Cem Aziz Çakmak, who was arrested as part of the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup case. In the recording, the voice allegedly belonging to Çakmak was heard saying revenge will be taken for the Sledgehammer investigation within two years and that many will be hurt, including children.
Top court points to Supreme State Council for Başbuğ
The Constitutional Court, which ruled last week that the rights of Başbuğ who was convicted in the Ergenekon trial had been violated, said Başbuğ's demand that he be tried at the Supreme State Council has legal grounds.
With its statement, the Constitutional Court will probably pave the way for the trial of the former military chief at the Supreme State Council (Yüce Divan), a title the Constitutional Court assumes when it tries ministers, prime ministers, chiefs of General Staff and other high-ranking bureaucrats.
Since the beginning of the Ergenekon trial, Başbuğ and his lawyers argued that the former chief of General Staff should be tried at the Supreme State Council and not a high criminal court.
Başbuğ was arrested in 2012 on coup charges as part of the case against the terrorist Ergenekon organization, which was accused of working to topple the AK Party government. The general, who retired in 2010, became the highest-ranking military officer to be put behind bars in the Ergenekon case. He was given a life sentence.
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