Turkey's top court has delivered a landmark ruling, deciding that the rights of a majority of the convicted suspects in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot case have been violated, thus paving the way for a retrial, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
The Constitutional Court issued its ruling on June 18, after merging 230 separate individual appeals that were filed by the convicts. The ruling is likely to have repercussions in the political arena as well, as political debates are already heated in the run up to the August presidential election.
The Constitutional Court ruled unanimously that the convicted suspects' rights were violated concerning "digital data and defendants' testimony," obliging local courts for a re-trial of the suspects in order to eliminate the violations.
Lengthy detentions and delays in the delivery of rulings by the Constitutional Court concerning individual appeals on lengthy detentions in the Balyoz case have long been occupying the national agenda.
On Oct. 9, 2013, the Supreme Court of Appeals ordered the retrial of 88 convicted suspects, while approving the convictions of 237 suspects in the case.
Lawyers expect release
Celal Ulgen, one of the lawyers of the Sledgehammer case, told daily Hurriyet they were expecting the suspects to be released in light of the Constitutional Court's ruling.
"Freedom should be granted to the suspects. According to our laws, if the Constitutional Court rules about a violation [in the court case], then one can apply this to the primary court [and ask] for a retrial," he said.
Ulgen said the Constitutional Court would notify the court and Justice Ministry about its verdict today, and this should bring about the release of the suspects. The court refuses the introduction of new evidence to the court for heavy sentences given to suspects, he said, adding the case should be restarted.
Former First Army General Cetin Dogan, former Air Force General Halil Ibrahim Firtina, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy and former General Engin Alan, former Navy Admiral Ozden Ornek and other high-ranking retired generals were among the 237 suspects whose convictions in the Balyoz case were approved by the Supreme Court of Appeals. It is not clear yet whether their convictions have been subject to the ruling by the Constitutional Court.
The June 18 ruling came three months after the Constitutional Court issued a similar decision following an individual application filed by former Chief of General Staff Ilker Bashbug on March 7.
Bashbug was sentenced to life in prison on charges of leading a terrorist organization to topple the government in the Ergenekon coup plot case.
During the Balyoz trial, separate reports from Naval and Air Force experts indicated that the hard drive containing evidence had been modified, but their assessments were dismissed by the court.
In late January, experts from Turkey's science watchdog, TUBİTAK, also released a report stating that the date and time of key files on a hard drive found during searches conducted in December 2010 at the Golcuk Navy Command had been altered.
Based on the reports, lawyers of the convicts appealed to the Chief Prosecutor's Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals, but their appeal was rejected on May 16.