Turkish court orders release of jailed former army chief

by Reuters
Friday, 7 March 2014 16:22 GMT

(Adds lawyer quotes, background)

ISTANBUL, March 7 (Reuters) - A Turkish court ordered the release of former general Ilker Basbug from a life sentence on Friday, adding to uncertainty over the fate of court cases trying coup plots against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

The decision followed a constitutional court ruling on Thursday that Basbug's incarceration for his alleged role in the 'Ergenekon' conspiracy violated his rights, as the court trying him had failed to publish a detailed verdict on the case.

Basbug, a former army chief, has been held in Silivri prison near Istanbul for 26 months in connection with the 'Ergenekon' case, a trial which helped tame Turkey's once all-powerful military.

The court ruling could be a precedent for more than 200 other defendants jailed over the 'Ergenekon' affair.

"This verdict is very important, but unfortunately we were only now able to correct the injustice ... after more than two years' imprisonment," Basbug's lawyer Ilkay Sezer told reporters outside the Istanbul court house.

"There are many more people in jails who are suffering severe health problems and who have been victims of these courts. I hope that, as soon as possible, their cases will also be resolved with release orders."

"Some people created victims through baseless and fabricated evidence," Sezer added.

The five-year trial, which reached a verdict last August, was key to a decade-long battle between Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party and a secularist elite that had led modern Turkey from its foundation in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan is now engaged in a power struggle with a former ally, U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of using influence in the judiciary and police to orchestrate a graft probe targeting the government. Gulen denies this.

Erdogan is widely believed to have relied heavily on Gulen's influence in breaking the power of the army, which carried out three coups between 1960 and 1980 and forced an Islamist-led government from power in 1997. (Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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