Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Still in Hot Water

PHOTO from Hurriyet

One of the stories I overlooked last week was the Supreme Court of Appeals' rejection of a petition to hear the case of former Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug. The court ruled that it could not hear Basbug's case because he had been charged with terrorism, and that therefore the specially-authorized court responsible for his launching his prosecution had jurisdiction.

Last month's news of Basbug's arrest caught nearly everyone by surprise, and ratcheted up questions as to just how far the specially-authorized courts charged with the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations are willing to go. For background on Basbug and the controversy over whether it should be the Supreme Court or the specially-authorized court that brought the indictment, in addition to some background as to the division within the AKP thanks to pro-Gulen forces, click here.

At the same time, it appears specially-authorized prosecutors are also digging deeper into figures involved in the Feb. 28 process, the 1997 postmodern coup that brought about the demise of Erbakan's Islamist Refah-party and its governing coalition. Leading figures in the AKP have long resented the Feb. 28 process, and historical memory of the events continues to influence AKP politicians and its supporters (see Feb. 7 post).

The event is known as the Feb. 28 process since this is the date on which the National Security Council (MGK) met to begin a protracted process through the spring that ultimately resulted in the government's falling and a series of new laws and restrictions on Islamist political activity. Standards of education were changed to counter the rising popularity of imam-hatip high schools (religious high schools where students receive a mix of standard and theological curriculum), regulations on the headscarf were strengthened, the Refah party was closed, and numerous Islamist politicians, including the prime minister, banned from politics and tried in courts for offenses against the secular unity of the state.

According to Milliyet, four civilian officers working in the MGK at the time have been asked to give testimony as part of the investigation. The paper reports that the officers were working in the high ranks of the institution, and played a role in writing the various orders and memos that guided the coup.

At the same time, government officials are starting to talk about possible reform of laws allowing for specially-authorized courts and prosecutors. These developments follow the crisis with Hakan Fidan and apparent power move by elements supported by religious leader Fethullah Gulen. Yet it seems for the moment that Basbug's trial will go on despite President Gul's call for the former chief to have his case heard at the higher court. Critics of Erdogan have pointed out that the prime minister had no problem in saving Fidan from prosecution, but are willing to take no such measure to save Basbug despite the apparent cooked-up charges against him.

The specially-authorized court has accepted the 39-page indictment against Basbug in which he is charged with planning to topple the government multiple times, the last and most critical to the charges being through a plan to create numerous websites that would spread black propaganda ("psychological operations") against the government and foment the conditions for a coup. The indictment also alleges that when Basbug was Land Forces Commander he also planned to overthrow the government, but gave up when he realized he did not have the resources to carry through his plans.

Evidence in the indictment is shoddy at best, largely consisting of various accusations and innuendo, as well as circumstantial links to other figures charged with terrorism, including former Cumhuriyet columnist Mustafa Balbay. Basbug gave an interview to Balbay in 2004 on negotiations with Cyprus, but did so at the time anonymously.

Basbug has denied the charges in the indictment, saying that he did not even have a computer in his office and that if the military truly planned to overthrow the government, it had more powerful means at its disposal than websites.

No comments: