The judge released 19 of the suspects due to the “existence of serious doubt regarding the crime,” despite an earlier statement from Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ that the Sledgehammer plot appeared to be “very serious.”
Retired Gen. Çetin Doğan, the former head of Turkey’s 1st Army and a major suspect in the Sledgehammer investigation, was released Thursday night, one day after 17 other suspects in the case were freed. Critics complained that judges appointed by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) are releasing suspects one by one. Doğan is accused of having drafted the plot.
Initially, 41 people were arrested in the Sledgehammer probe. The coup plot includes plans to bomb the Fatih and Beyazıt mosques and down a Turkish jet over the Aegean to fuel problems with Greece with the ultimate aim of discrediting the government.
The latest releases came on Thursday when 12th High Criminal Court judge Oktay Kuban released 19 people, including retired Gen. Doğan, retired Gen. Engin Alan and retired Gen. Süha Tanyeli. On Wednesday, nine others were released by the İstanbul 9th High Criminal Court. The judges were the newly assigned Tuncay Aslan and Yılmaz Alp, who ruled that the suspects should be released due to their “social standing.” Presiding Judge Nurettin Ak opposed this, but the suspects were released on a 2-to-1 vote.
According to the Sledgehammer plan, made public by a newspaper in January, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had a systematic plan to create chaos in society by bombing mosques. The attacks’ desired result was to increase pressure on the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government for failing to provide security to its citizens. The attacks were to eventually lead to a military coup.
March 27 Saturday
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused members of the high judiciary of acting emotionally regarding the constitutional amendment package the government proposed last week, speaking to journalists on his way to Libya for an official visit on Saturday.
Many Turkish buildings and landmarks -- including the Bosporus Bridge and popular shopping malls -- fell dark on Saturday, joining a global climate change protest as lights were switched off across the world to mark Earth Hour. Thousands in Turkey turned off lights and appliances for an hour from 8:30 p.m. in a gesture to highlight environmental concerns and to call for a binding pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This year’s event was the fourth annual Earth Hour, organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
March 28 Sunday
In a mocking protest against the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Young Civilians organized a footrace in Ankara from the CHP headquarters to the Constitutional Court, a frequent destination for the party after every government initiative aimed at improving democracy in the country.
Adana Mayor Aytaç Durak was suspended from office by the Interior Ministry following accusations of corruption, Adana Governor İlhan Atış announced on Sunday. Durak was suspended “for the sake of the investigation” into corruption charges against the mayor.
Oktay Kuban, the judge who was presiding over the İstanbul 12th High Criminal Court when Gen. Abdullah Dalay testified on Sunday as part of the investigation into the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) Security Operation Plan, released the general despite the prosecutor’s demands for his arrest, ruling that the general was not likely to flee. Last week Kuban also released War Academies Deputy Commander Gen. Yurdaer Olcan, another key suspect in the same investigation.
A former soccer player who is allegedly the leader of a large match-fixing gang was arrested on Sunday evening as part of an extensive match-fixing investigation. Alleged gang leader Erkan Ergün was sent to Metris Prison after testifying.
March 29 Monday
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated that Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union remain open-ended and urged Ankara to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus to allow progress in its bid to join the 27-nation bloc.
Prime Minister Erdoğan said his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) planned to send its constitutional reform package to Parliament on Tuesday after making minor changes to its initial proposals.
President Abdullah Gül met with prominent Turkish jurists and political scientists at the Çankaya presidential palace to exchange views on the government’s plans to amend the Constitution. Former Constitutional Court President Mustafa Bumin, former Supreme Court of Appeals President Osman Arslan, former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk, Professor Ergun Özbudun from Bilkent University and Professor Ersin Kalaycıoğlu from Sabancı University were among those invited to Gül’s luncheon. Journalist Taha Akyol and political analyst Tarhan Erdem also attended the luncheon.
The offices of the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) in Ankara were searched after a warrant was issued by the Ankara 9th Criminal Court of Peace as part of an investigation into allegations that the buildings of some institutions of the high judiciary have been wiretapped.
March 30 Tuesday
The government submitted a 29-article constitutional reform package to Parliament, the last-minute changes to which make it possible for military top brass to be tried by a civilian court. The package was presented to the Parliament administration in the morning by AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Bekir Bozdağ.
Three Turkish soldiers were killed and two others wounded after a land mine believed to have been planted by outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists exploded on Tuesday in southeastern Hakkari province. Spc. Sgt. Mehmet Kaya Çelik from Elazığ, Spc. Sgt. Nuri Aydın Sağır from Kayseri and Spc. Sgt. Fatih Aydoğdu from Kırıkkale died in the blast yesterday, while Spc. Sgt. Salih Önsal from Manisa and infantry Cpl. Arif Kılıç from Kırıkkale were wounded.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli said his party is against the government’s constitutional amendment package both in essence and because of the method it came about.
A joint statement issued by hundreds of lawyers from the Black Sea region accused the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) of interference in an ongoing judicial process, calling the reasons the HSYK provided for recently removing several Erzincan prosecutors from their posts insufficient.
The Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court sentenced Vedat Kurşun, a former editor-in-chief of the Kurdish-language Azadiya Welat daily, to three years in prison on charges of disseminating propaganda for the outlawed PKK.
Foreign Trade Minister Zafer Çağlayan announced that his ministry plans to double southeastern Europe’s share of Turkey’s total exports from 5 percent to 10 percent, while also calling for further economic partnerships between countries to realize the potential of the region.
Former Air Forces Judicial Undersecretary Col. Ahmet Zeki Üçok, who was already under arrest as part of a separate case involving falsified medical reports, was arrested by an İstanbul court as part of the investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal organization accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
March 31 Wednesday
A colonel whose name appears on a document allegedly prepared by the military titled the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism said he talked to main opposition CHP leader Deniz Baykal and that Baykal will “act as his lawyer,” according to a voice recording posted online. The voice recording indicates that Col. Dursun Çiçek has been trying to fight his way out of the ongoing criminal probe. Çiçek is heard saying during a conversation with an unidentified official from the Gendarmerie Criminal Laboratory: “I’ve been cheated. That I am OK with if it is necessary to take a step further.” In the recording, he asks for a new report stating that the signature is not authentic. He also says he had talked to CHP leader Baykal. Çiçek says in the recording: “[Baykal] says he reviewed the issue. They talked to my daughter’s lawyer. But who will be our lawyer? The opposition will, politicians will. I am fighting by myself all alone against the prime minister, against the political institution and against this and that.”
Reiterating Turkey’s strong support for Pakistan in its fight against extremist terrorism, President Gül emphasized the need for the international community to support the South Asian country, with which Turkey has historically enjoyed friendly relations.
A special sergeant was killed and a noncommissioned officer was injured when a hand grenade exploded at a military post. The explosion occurred at the Fifth Armored Brigade Command in southeastern Gaziantep province.
Turkey paid its last respects to three soldiers who were killed in a mine explosion in the eastern province of Hakkari on Tuesday.
A new constitutional amendment package the government submitted to Parliament on Tuesday has been relayed to Parliament’s Constitution Commission, Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin announced.
A higher-than-anticipated growth of 6 percent in the Turkish economy in the final quarter of 2009 as compared to the same months of 2008 buoyed anticipations for a sustainable recuperation in markets amid adverse aftereffects of the 2009 global credit crunch. According to data released by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat), the Turkish economy contracted by 4.7 percent in 2009 over a year before, well below the 6 percent year-end projections in the medium-term program. This is the first time Turkey saw a contraction in its economy following seven years of continuous growth between 2002 and 2008. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had expected a 6.5 percent contraction in the Turkish economy in 2009.
The İstanbul 9th Criminal Court released nine military officers who were arrested last month as part of the investigation into the Sledgehammer coup plot. The officers included retired Adm. Ahmet Feyyaz Öğütçü, retired Gen. Metin Yavuz Yalçın, retired Gen. Ali Deniz Kutluk and Col. Hüseyin Özçoban.
Journalist Nazlı Ilıcak was sentenced to an 11-month suspended prison sentence for criticizing Sincan 1st High Criminal Court judge Osman Kaçmaz in one of her columns.
April 1 Thursday
Seven members of the terrorist PKK were reportedly killed by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) during operations carried out in Hakkari. The operations were launched following the deaths of three soldiers in a land mine explosion on Tuesday and were to continue around Hantepe, in the Çukurca district of Hakkari.
CHP leader Baykal denied having met with a colonel whose signature appears on a controversial military plot, contradicting claims the colonel reportedly made in a recently publicized voice recording.
April 2 Friday
Erzincan Chief Public Prosecutor İlhan Cihaner, who was arrested on Feb. 17 as part of the investigation into Ergenekon, a criminal organization accused of plotting to overthrow the government, did not attend the first hearing of a trial in which he faces charges of falsification of documents and abuse of power.
Protesters in the eastern province of Van attacked the bus in which CHP leader Baykal was traveling, throwing eggs at the vehicle. Baykal was in Van to attend the CHP’s provincial congress.
The Universal Jurists’ Platform and the Freedom Association (Özgür-Der) released statements on Friday lambasting the CHP and the MHP as well as the top courts for their resistance to the consolidation of democracy in Turkey and also lauded government-proposed changes to the Constitution, which they see a major step forward, though falling short what the really country needs, a brand new constitution.