Three high-ranking officers sentenced to 20 years as legitimacy of evidence is questioned

Turkish defence chiefs jailed for plotting to topple the government
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The Independent Online

Three of Turkey's most senior officers were among 330 members of the military convicted of plotting a coup yesterday in a trial seen as pitting Turkey's moderate Islamist government against the military.

An Istanbul court sentenced the three high-ranking officers to 20 years in jail. Ex-army commander General Cetin Dogan, former navy chief Ozden Ornek and former airforce chief Ibrahim Firtina were accused of masterminding the plot to topple the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2003. Another 327 retired or active officers were sent down for as long as 18 years for their involvement in the plot that has become known as "balyoz" or "sledgehammer".

But family members of the accused questioned the legitimacy of the ruling after allegations that the evidence had been doctored. "It is a sham verdict in what has been a sham trial all along," said Dani Rodrik, the son-in-law of General Dogan. "The court knew all along that the documents were fabricated. They are blatant forgeries."

The military officers were accused of planning to foment unrest in the country before launching a coup against the government on the pretext of restoring stability. They allegedly planned to shoot down a Turkish aircraft and blame the incident on Greece, Turkey's long-time rival, bomb two major mosques in Istanbul, and attack a military museum disguised as religious extremists.

Charges were originally brought against the officers in 2010, when the plot came to light. Mr Rodrik said that the trial was "highly political" and that the court had refused to allow documents detailing the coup plot to be authenticated by independent analysts.

His father-in-law, General Dogan, suffers from a heart condition and has diabetes. On Thursday, he told the court: "We see a process of unfolding to make the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal [Ataturk], who gave their lives for their country, to pay the price of their commitment to the republic and its principles." Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former military officer, founded Turkey's modern republic in 1923 and decreed it should be secular and oriented towards the West. Yet, since the country's inception, there has been a struggle between those who profess the secular identity espoused by the military and those who adhere to a more conservative religious identity.

General Dogan was initially sentenced to "aggravated life imprisonment" along with Ibrahim Firtina and Ozden Ornek. However, the sentences were reduced to 20 years for each man on the basis of an "incomplete attempt at staging a coup," according to the court. In total, 330 people were convicted and 34 acquitted in the case.

While the EU has called on Turkey to rein in its powerful military, which has launched four coups since 1960, the way the trial has been conducted has raised serious questions about the country's democratic credentials.

The plotters allegedly planned to shoot down a Turkish aircraft and blame Greece for it