Turkey’s ex-army chief referred to court for arrest
A former chief of Turkey's powerful armed forces was referred to court for arrest after he testified in court on Thursday as a suspect in an investigation of an alleged Internet campaign to discredit Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
General İlker Başbuğ, who retired in 2010, is the highest-ranking officer to be caught up in a widening probe into the so-called Ergenekon network, an ultra-nationalist group accused by prosecutors of conspiring to topple the government.
Looking relaxed in a dark suit, he arrived at an İstanbul court beside the Bosphorus strait to answer questions from prosecutors in a 7.5-hour closed session.
İstanbul Specially Authorized Prosecutor Cihan Kansız and Deputy İstanbul Chief Prosecutor Fikret Seçen interrogated the former military chief.
The investigation into the propaganda websites began in 2010 based on evidence found in the home of retired Col. Hasan Ataman Yıldırım, another suspect in the website case. Later, an anonymous tipster from inside the military sent an email to inform the public and prosecutors that the General Staff had established 42 websites for the sole purpose of disseminating propaganda about the government and religious communities.
It was the first time a former chief of the armed forces has testified as a suspect in a criminal case in a civilian court.
Several hundred defendants, including retired senior officers, lawyers, academics and journalists, have been put on trial in cases relating to the investigation.
Nicknamed pashas, a title dating back to Ottoman times, Turkey's once untouchable generals have seen their influence decline as Ankara pushes reforms aimed at strengthening civilian rule and winning Turkey's accession to the European Union.
Turkey's military, NATO's second-largest army, has long seen itself as the guarantor of the country's secular constitution, and had carried out three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pressured another government from power in 1997.
The current investigation, carried out by state prosecutors, centers on allegations Turkey's military set up websites to spread anti-government propaganda to destabilize Turkey.
The court case is open and defendants are already on trial, but there was no hearing on Thursday. Başbuğ remains a suspect only and has not been charged.
Chief of general staff from 2008 to 2010, he has in the past said reports of military plots to undermine the government were part of a smear campaign to divide the armed forces and pledged he would never tolerate coup activities.
The "Internet Memorandum" case is just one of many strands of investigations into Ergenekon that began five years ago.
Retired General Hilmi Özkök, also a former chief of the general staff, testified in the Ergenekon case in 2009 but only as a witness, not a suspect.