World from Berlin: Erdogan's 'Political Show Trial'

A Turkish secular protestor outside the court building in Silivri, near Istanbul, n Monday. Zoom
DPA

A Turkish secular protestor outside the court building in Silivri, near Istanbul, n Monday.

Turkey's mammoth five-year trial of 275 defendants in the alleged "Ergenekon" coup conspiracy failed to deliver convincing evidence. It will deepen divisions in Turkish society, write German commentators.

When it began in 2008, Turkey's trial of the so-called "Ergenekon" network of alleged ultra-nationalist conspirators plotting to military coup with assassinations and murders won praise as an important move to curtail the military and strengthen the rule of law.

But by the time it finished on Monday, the trial had been discredited because the prosecution failed to present irrefutable evidence and because of ever new waves of arrests -- not just of military members but of opposition parliamentarians, journalists and academics as well.

The Ergenekon network, named after a mythical Central Asian valley where a wolf saved Turks from annihilation, is said to have been linked to the "Deep State," militant secularists in the establishment who are believed to have influenced political life in Turkey for decades.

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Photo Gallery: Verdict in Ergenekon Trial
German media commentators say that while some of the guilty verdicts may be justified, the trial ended up looking like a settling of scores by the increasingly autocratic government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The commentators write that the verdicts will further divide Turkish society, beset by a widening rift this year following Erdogan's heavy-handed treatment of young anti-government protestors in the wake of a dispute over the redevelopment of Istanbul's Gezi Park.

Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Many Turks lean towards conspiracy theories, which isn't totally unfounded because the country is an eldorado for conspirators. There is convincing evidence of secret, criminal political networks. But they only rarely come to light. High hopes had been pinned on the trial of the Ergenekon conspiracy -- and they were disappointed, as expected. Criminals like the former head of the notorious JITEM, the Gendarmerie Intelligence Organization, were rightly sent to jail, but with many of the approximately 254 guilty verdicts of officers, academics, politicians and journalists, there are question marks."

"Many liberal Turks welcomed what once started out as a plausible investigation into the shadow networks of the 'Deep State.' It helped to curb the excessive power of the Turkish military. But the evidence remained thin and the trial failed to live up to judicial norms. After five years it didn't even provide unquestionable evidence that Ergenekon existed."

"But above all, the conservative-Islamic government of Erdogan didn't use the trial to investigate the possible conspiracy and to strengthen democracy. It misused the trial to settle scores with its opponents and to create new conspiracy theories. The Ergenekon trial has divided Turkish society even more than it already is."

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"With some defendants the situation was clear: Veli Kücük, the founder of the unscrupulous gendarmerie secret service JITEM, got a life sentence. The former general is seen as responsible for many unsolved murders. Mafia boss Sedat Peker's 10-year sentence is also likely to have been justified. But the judicial proceedings against the 'Deep State' were discredited by ever new waves of arrests of opposition politicians, media critics of the Ergenekon trial and professors who had previously been beyond reproach. The arrests didn't result in prosecutions every time. But they created the suspicion that the 'trial of the century' was also being used as a general settling of scores with the critics of Erdogan."

"All this happened before the recent wave of protests against Erdogan and his government -- meaning 'before Gezi,' before the nationwide demonstrations that followed the brutal police crackdown on a few Istanbul protestors who wanted to protected green space. 'After Gezi,' the prime minister claims, Turkey suddenly has a lot of new enemies. They're mostly young, well educated and most of them were apolitical until now, and they yearn for the freedom Erdogan once promised them."

Left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

"This was a political show trial that has nothing to do with the rule of law. The prosecution's charges, which ran to more than 2,000 pages, didn't deliver a single piece of convincing evidence that the Ergenekon secret alliance existed. Witnesses were hauled in whose identity was kept secret. Their statements were fit for the theater. At the same time some defendants were abe to prove during the trial that data and documents that incriminated them were loaded into their computers by the police after their arrests. 'Accidentally,' it was said."

"The once-powerful Kemalist elite had a compliant judiciary. It once sent the current prime minister to jail for reciting a poem. Today Erdogan too has a compliant judiciary which is waging a campaign of revenge against its predecessors."

Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The start of the trial in 2008 was still seen as a sign of democratization. It was targeted against the 'Deep State,' a network of paramilitary gangs that didn't shy away from murder. But curious investigation results, diffuse waves of arrests and the worsening of the political climate in Turkey raised doubts about the trial. It will only be possible to judge in a few years whether it lived up to judicial norms. The European Court of Human Rights, which the convicted defendants will surely turn to once they've exhausted the appeal processes in their own country, will pass judgment on Monday's verdict."

-- David Crossland

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1. Evidence? What evidence?
kukaramanga 08/07/2013
Who needs evidence when you're a dictatorship. What's good for Turkey is also good for the USA.
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