ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Eighty-six people were indicted on charges of plotting the violent overthrow of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which is accused by militant secularists of Islamist subversion.
Some opponents of the government, which denies any secret Islamist agenda, call the controversial coup case revenge for court moves to outlaw the ruling AK Party and ban Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul from party politics.
Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin filed the indictment on Monday after months of intense media speculation about the case, that has hit financial markets and unsettled foreign investors who have helped fire strong economic growth.
“The indictment covers crimes such as forming an armed terror group…and attempting to overthrow the government by force,” Engin told reporters at a news conference in the garden of an Istanbul court house.
In the last 50 years, military coups have unseated four elected governments in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but officially secular country seeking to join the European Union.
The indictment targets the shadowy ultra-nationalist group, Ergenekon, which first came to light a year ago when a cache of explosives was discovered in a police raid on an Istanbul house.
The near 2,500-page indictment named 86 defendants, of which 48 are in custody. They include the head of a small nationalist party, a nationalist newspaper editor and retired army officers.
The charges also include incitement to armed insurrection, aiding a terror group and possession of explosives.
Vural Ergul, a lawyer for one of the suspects, criticized the investigation, state-run Anatolian news agency reported.
“What should be discussed is the flouting of suspects’ rights, the endangering of their personal safety and the crushing of the principle of democratic law,” he said.
Last week, two senior retired generals, leading businessmen and journalists, all critical of AK, were arrested and an additional indictment is being prepared for them.
Military prosecutors have requested trial documents on the retired generals, broadcaster NTV said, amid speculation on whether military courts may also investigate the alleged plots.
SERIES OF PLOTS
The powerful military denies any link to Ergenekon; but a power struggle between rival elites, one made up of the militant secularist establishment and the other of government supporters, seems now to be playing out in the Turkish courts.
The AK Party, viewed with extreme suspicion by a military which regards itself as the ultimate guarantor of the secular order, rejected suggestions that it had brought any pressure to bear on the investigation, Anatolian reported.
“There is no question of the government intervening in this process. Those saying that want to pervert the process,” senior AK Party deputy Bekir Bozdag told reporters.
According to media reports, Ergenekon is accused of a series of plots to overthrow Prime Minister Erdogan, elected by a landslide in 2002, by stirring civil disobedience that would force the military to intervene.
Engin said legal restrictions made it impossible to unveil further details on the case. An Istanbul criminal court must now rule on whether to accept the indictment.
The case has added to worries in financial markets, which are already unsettled by a case to close the ruling AK Party on charges of anti-secular activities.
Constitutional Court rapporteur Osman Can will submit his report on the closure case on Wednesday, Hurriyet newspaper reported on its Website, bringing the trial closer to completion. A verdict is expected in early August.
Militant secularists dismiss the AK leadership’s arguments that it has abandoned its Islamist roots and point to an attempt to allow the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in universities as just one proof of its intentions. They also fear AK is anchoring its position by placing supporters in places of influence in the courts, education, civil service and security services.
The AK Party embraces nationalist and centre-right market liberals as well as religious conservatives. It has led Turkey through a period of strong economic growth and into European Union entry talks. It has a huge parliamentary majority.
As leaked to the media, the indictment refers to the killing of a judge in a 2006 armed attack on Turkey’s top administrative court and to the bombing of a secularist newspaper.