Analysts slam Turkey coup trial

AFP , Tuesday 6 Aug 2013

Trail suspected as strike down on army, nation's self-appointed guardian of secularism

Analysts in Turkey heaped scorn on a court's decision to sentence a former army chief to life in jail following a divisive trial of 275 people accused of plotting a coup.

The civilian court Monday imprisoned ex top general Ilker Basbug for life and handed down lengthy sentences for other retired high-ranking officers, academics, politicians, lawyers and journalists in a landmark verdict that prompted ridicule from some observers.

The mass trial was seen as a key test in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's showdown with secularist and military opponents, and critics branded it as a witchhunt aimed at stifling dissent.

The defendants faced dozens of charges ranging from membership of an underground "terrorist organisation" to arson, illegal weapons possession and instigating an armed uprising against Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which came to power in 2002.

Only 21 of the 275 defendants were acquitted although others were convicted and then released as they had already served time in prison.

Hikmet Sami Turk, a former justice minister, told AFP: "I have serious suspicious about the heavy penalties that should have been based on very tangible evidence."

"You have army generals, journalists and lawyers among the convicted. How would they end up joining forces to stage a coup?" he asked, slamming the verdict as "politically motivated."

"The ruling has seriously shaken trust in the judiciary," he added.

Pro-government circles however have praised the trial as a step towards democracy in Turkey, urging respect for what they said is an independent judiciary.

Observers in Turkey initially hailed the probe as promising to reveal a secularist plot, but the lengthy proceedings and lack of evidence overshadowed the so-called "Operation Gladio".

Suspicions also arose that the case was a way for Erdogan's government to avenge the army's ouster of his Islamist predecessors.

The charges triggered an angry reaction across the country, with defendants openly suggesting that the trial was being used by the government to strike down the all-powerful army, the self-appointed guardian of secularism.

The verdicts are expected to be appealed, a process that analysts said could last at least two years.

"These days will be left behind, but the judges who issued the verdicts will not be able to escape the judgement of history," said Kocasakal, also head of the Istanbul Bar Association.

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