ANKARA – Three former Turkish generals have beensentenced to life imprisonment on Friday. They were on trial for planning a coup against the government in 2003. Because the coup plans didn’t lead to an actual coup, they can be released after twenty years. Thirty-four other officers were acquitted.
These verdicts are the first from trials over coup plans. Hundreds of officers were on trial because they supposedly wanted to create chaos in the country with terror attacks. The chaos would give them the opportunity to bring down the government.
A total of 78 suspects were sentenced to 18 years imprisonment, 214 of them got 16 years, 28 suspects got 13 years and four months. The high sentences caused intense reactions in Turkey. The biggest opposition party CHP states that the trial ‘has been a political trial from the very beginning’.
There is heavy discussion about evidence being tampered with in the so-called Sledgehammer case. Not only the accused’s lawyers are convinced of tampering, but also some supporters of the case admit there is something not right with the evidence presented in court. Investigations into the evidence by two Turkish universities and an American investigation bureau proved that there had been major interference with the mainly digital evidence.
The debate about the coup plans has been intense from the very beginning. The Turkish army has a history of not hesitating to stage coups, but that doesn’t prove that high military personnel were now also involved in plans to stage a coup. The plans were supposedly made in 2003. The current AKP government had been in power for one year. Among members of the army there was a deep mistrust of the leaders of the AKP, who are rooted in the political-Islamic movement. The last coup, against such an Islamic-oriented government, was in 1997, when the army forced Prime Minister Erbakan to step down, using a memorandum.
Ever since the AKP has been governing Turkey, the power of the army has been limited. Many lawyers, academics and political analysts believe that power in the country has now been taken over by judges and prosecutors appointed by the AKP, and that they never intended to give the generals and officers a fair trial.