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Turkey: Defense Lawyers Boycott Major Trial

(June 19, 2012) On June 15, 2012, defense lawyers in Turkey boycotted a high profile trial in protest over a judicial ruling in a case that began with press revelations in 2010. It involves hundreds of military officers charged with plotting an anti-government coup in 2003. The lawyers in the trial were unhappy with the judicial decision not to allow some testimony that the defense felt might cast doubt on prosecution evidence. That evidence had come from confiscated computer files, which the defense claims they can establish could not have been produced before 2007, four years after the alleged coup plan. (Jaimie Cremeans, Trial of Military Officers on Hold Due to Defense Lawyers' Boycott, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (June 16, 2012); Ece Toksabay, Turkish Coup Case Cast in Limbo by Lawyers' Boycott, ARAB NEWS (June 15, 2012).)

The officers, including 49 who were of high rank, were charged with organizing a plot for a military coup, known as the “Sledgehammer Plot,” that was not carried out. The elements of the plan, designed to destabilize the existing, civilian government, allegedly included:

  • bombing mosques in Istanbul;
  • downing a Turkish fighter jet and having the action appear to have been done by Greece; and
  • having people dressed to appear as Islamists attack the National Air Museum and military guard posts in major cities, resulting in the shutting down of neighborhoods. (Anita McNaught, Turkey's “Sledgehammer Plot,” AL JAZEERA (Feb. 26, 2010).)

Following the boycott of the trial by the attorneys for the defense, Prosecutor Huseyin Kaplan claimed the walkout was a strategy to “prevent the court from reaching a verdict” that might have been unfavorable for the defendants. (Cremeans, supra.) Had the trial continued to conviction, the prosecutors were asking for 15- to 20-year terms of imprisonment for the officers. (Toksabay, supra.)

As a result of the defense lawyers' stand, the judge referred the case back to the prosecutors. It is not yet certain whether it will be transferred to a different court. The situation raised doubts about the fate of other, similar conspiracy cases in Turkey, involving many people who have been detained for long periods without trial. (Id.)