The case surrounding the “plot” to overthrow Turkey’s government symbolises the struggle between the Islamic-orientated Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the secular elite.
Defendants stood accused of being part of an ultra-nationalist and pro-secular gang called “Ergenekon,” which takes its name from a legendary valley in Central Asia believed to be the ancestral homeland of Turks.
A group which was said to have pursued extra-judicial killings and bombings in order to trigger a military coup.
In July 2008, prosecutors sought to justify the legal proceedings.
“A total of 86 suspects, 48 of them in custody, are charged in the indictment, which covers crimes such as forming and directing an armed terror group, being a member of a terror group, helping an armed terror organisation and attempting to overthrow the government by force,” said Cengiz Gear, Istanbul Chief Prosecutor.
More charges followed. Ultimately, nearly 300 people – including military officers, politicians and journalists – were in the dock in what became a landmark trial in Turkey.
Former military commander, General Ilker Basburg, was among them. Before his life sentence was handed down, he said the public would not accept the punishment of innocent people.
Opposition member and hospital doctor Mehmet Haberal and journalist Mustafa Balbay were also jailed.
Erdogan has chipped away at the army’s influence since his party came to power. Last September, more than 300 military officers were jailed for plotting to overthrow him a decade ago, in the “Sledgehammer” plot. The convictions sparked protests.
The threat of a coup is not far fetched. The secularist military staged three in Turkey between 1960 and 1980 – and pushed the first Islamist-led government out of office in 1997.
But the latest court action has polarised Turkey, with some believing it is a chance to unravel a shadowy network of ultra-nationalists – and others who believe it is a government attempt to muzzle Erdogan’s secular-minded foes.
Erdogan has denied interfering in the legal process, stressing the judiciary’s independence. But he has criticised the prosecutors handling the case and expressed disquiet at the length of time defendants have been held in custody.