Turkey’s Military Moves Against Coup Cases as Judiciary Fights Government

Jan 06, 2014| Courtesy by : blogs.wsj.com

BN-AZ013_turkbl_D_20140103111110ISTANBUL–Turkey’s military filed a criminal complaint against coup-plot trials that jailed its generals, opening a new front against a hobbled judiciary as it fights government efforts to curb its powers.

Prosecutors in Ankara transferred to Istanbul on Friday a Dec. 27 request by the armed forces that seeks a retrial of hundreds of former and current officers imprisoned in an alleged plan known as Sledgehammer that aimed to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Coming as the premier battles the judiciary and purges the police over a corruption investigation that has rocked the government since Dec. 17, the move marks a sea change as former adversaries join forces against what they say are overzealous prosecutors.

“It’s an irony that yesterday’s enemies are today’s friends,” said Fadi Hakura, director of the Turkey Project at Chatham House in London.

The staunchly secularist military had been Islamist-rooted Mr. Erdogan’s leading antagonist until the premier sidelined the generals with his political brinkmanship and two controversial coup-plot trials, which have been criticized as witch hunts against the opposition while enjoying government support.

On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the government’s isn’t considering a general amnesty that would free jailed officers, and that no one should get their hopes up.

But Mr. Erdogan’s support for the cases had been waning since 2012, when the premier warned that the waves of arrests threaten to drown the nation as prosecutors jailed former Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug in the Ergenekon coup-plot trial. And when prosecutors unveiled their sprawling graft probe, targeting Mr. Erdogan’s allies and forcing a cabinet shuffle, the prime minister declared war on the legal system.

“There are members of the judiciary who are seeking to smear innocent people,” Mr. Erdogan said over the weekend, adding that the prosecutors would pay for seeking to destabilize Turkey as part of an international plot. “They call it a big corruption operation… unfortunately, there’s a gang that is establishing itself inside the state.”

Behind the bribery investigations is a power struggle, observers say, between Mr. Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Islamic cleric who helped anchor the premier’s three terms in office.

The imam’s millions of followers in Turkey are also believed to wield influence in the judiciary and police, and they are widely seen as the driving force behind the coup-plot cases. Mr. Gulen cited health reasons for a moved to the U.S. in 1999 from Turkey, where generals ousted an Islamist-led coalition headed by Mr. Erdogan’s mentor in 1997.

Mr. Erdogan moved to curb the judiciary’s power after the corruption case and prevented a second round of detentions when newly appointed police chiefs refused to carry out raids.

The premier also passed legislation last year to bar prosecutors from questioning his intelligence chief, and has attacked them in recent weeks for seeking to ruin state-run lender Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, whose chief executive has been jailed in the probe.One of the prosecutors has since been removed from the case.

“Gulen and Erdogan perceive each other as a threat, and are using various state resources and the judiciary to undermine each other,” Mr. Fakura said. “Erdogan began to defend the military and its interests; it is natural now that there is this growing warfare between the Gulen movement and Erdogan.”

The military joined the assault on the judiciary after a salvo by Mr. Erdogan’s chief political adviser, lawmaker Yalcin Akdogan.

“Those who conspire against their country’s national army, national intelligence, national bank, and a civilian government that has won the hearts of its people aren’t doing any good for the country,” Mr. Akdogan wrote in Dec. 24 column in the pro-government Star newspaper, taking a swipe at the Gulen movement.

Turkey’s armed forces seized on Mr. Akdogan’s allegation of a conspiracy against the military to request an investigation into those responsible for the plot three days later. Also on Dec. 27, the General Staff said the “armed forces don’t want to be a part of political discussions in any way,” while adding that it supports the rule of law and continues to follow cases involving its officers. In October, an appellate court upheld 237 convictions and prison sentences of up to 20 years in the Sledgehammer trial.

The military added that police officers who took part in coup-plot cases have been removed from their posts amid the corruption investigation. Government officials cited abuse of power and failure to notify superiors as they removed about 100 police chiefs from top posts. The armed forces didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“It is now clearly revealed that there are no legal grounds to the Sledgehammer trial, which is completely fabricated and the product of a conspiracy,” said Haluk Peksen, lawyer for 21 of the defendants in the case, according to Anadolu. “We would like those who conspired against the national army to be revealed.”