The five-year farce known as the “Ergenekon” trial – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s purge of military and political opponents under the cloak of an “anti-terrorism” prosecution – is now completed. On Monday, a special court pronounced the convictions and harsh sentences – ranging from decades of incarceration to life-imprisonment – for dozens of the 275 defendants (66 of whom have already been languishing in prison for some time).
As expected, Erdogan’s ruling Islamic-supremacist party (the AKP) is hailing the trumped-up result as a triumph for “democracy” that strengthens civilian control of the military – many of the accused, including former army chief of staff General Ilker Basbug (sentenced to life imprisonment), having allegedly plotted to overthrow Erdogan’s government. But, as Der Spiegel reports,
[T]he evidence was questionable, and in some cases non-existent. The government hasn’t targeted a small, secret group of conspirators but half the military leadership. Many author, journalists, lawyers, businesspeople and opposition politicians are in jail. Erdogan, many critics are convinced, is waging a witchhunt against his political opponents….
The story that Ergenekon was part of an even greater conspiracy called “Deep State”– aimed at bringing the generals back to power — has become steadily less credible. Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003 and who won a third term in july 2011, increasingly resembles a power-obsessed ruler bent on silencing all opposition. Critics say his aim isn’t to submit the military to democratic rule but simply to cement his own grip on power.
The intimidation and the number of arrests has steadily risen in the last 10 years. Many journalists no longer dare to report what’s really happening, authors avoid making public appearances and government critics need bodyguards. The anti-terrorism law is an effective instrument of power for the government as the supposed terrorist threat is an accusation that’s hard to disprove.
Nor do Monday’s verdicts come in a vacuum. As the Guardian notes, last year more than 300 military officers were sentenced to jail in a case dubbed “Sledgehammer,” involving similar charges of plotting to overthrow Erdogan a decade ago.