A Turkish court is set to hand down the verdict in the trial of
hundreds of military officers accused of plotting to overthrow the
Islamic-rooted government, the first ruling from several cases targeting
The two-year-long case is wrapping up at the court in Silivri, near
Istanbul, which heard on Thursday the final testimonies of the suspects
in the so-called "Sledgehammer" trial, named after a 2003 military
Prosecutors have demanded up to 20 years in prison for the 365
military officers in the case, which concerns alleged army plans to bomb
historic mosques in Istanbul and initiate conflict with neighbouring
Greece to facilitate a military coup.
The defendants argued that the alleged plot was a military exercise
regularly held by the army, and questioned the authenticity of some
documents presented as evidence.
The court announced that it would deliver the final verdict on Friday
afternoon, the first ruling to come out of a series of trials into
alleged coup plots by the once-mighty Turkish army.
'Unfair and unlawful'
The trial, which began in December 2010, stands out in Turkish
politics because it directly attacks the secular army, which authored
four coups in half a century.
At Thursday's hearing, the judge listened to the defence of Cetin
Dogan, former commander of the First Army and suspected of being the
"mastermind" behind the 2003 plan to drive the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP) from power.
"Here we see a process unfolding to make the soldiers of Mustafa
Kemal (Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey), who give their lives for
their country, to pay the price of their commitment to the Republic and
its principles," the ex-general, according to the written transcript of
his defence, said.
Dogan branded the trial as "unfair and unlawful", claiming it had
been launched by supporters with "a mentality considering all those who
do not belong to their brotherhood as enemies".
His remarks will probably be seen as an implicit reference to the AKP
government and the influence on the judiciary of Islamic cleric
Fethullah Gulen's religious movement.
About 250 of the defendants are standing trial under arrest. All the
defendants have denied the charges and branded evidence as fabricated.
Their lawyers were absent from the courtroom in a protest against
what they dubbed a lack of willingness on the part of the court to
verify the authenticity of documents presented.
"The verdict given will not be lawful but political," said General
Bilgin Balanli, as he claimed that the accused were "the mere victims"
of a showdown between the government and the army.
Hundreds of suspects, including army officers, journalists and
politicians, are being tried separately over their alleged role in
plotting to topple the government.
Pro-government circles have praised the trial as a step towards
democracy, but pro-secular ones have branded it a witch-hunt to silence
The Turkish army, which sees itself as the guarantor of Turkey's
secular principles, overthrew three governments in 1960, 1971 and 1980.
And in 1997, it pressured an Islamic-leaning prime minister,
Necmettin Erbakan, to step down. Erbakan was the political mentor of
current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.