A former military chief was arrested on Friday in Turkey, accused of leading a terrorist organization. General Ilker Basbug was jailed as part of a probe into allegations the military had attempted to bring down Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
Basbug was jailed overnight after seven hours of questioning by prosecutors investigating the allegations, MSNBC reported. He is accused of funding dozens of websites aimed at discrediting Erdogan’s Islamic-backed government in 2009.
Basbug, who led the military when the websites were created, retired in 2010. He is the highest-ranking officer to face trial in the long-running crackdown on Turkey’s mighty military establishment. More than 400 suspects are already on trial. He could face charges of "gang leadership" and attempting to topple the government, the BBC reported.
The high-profile arrest appeared to be the latest skirmish in a power struggle between the pro-Islamic governing Justice and Development Party, and the secular establishment, reported The New York Times. The Turkish military is seen by many, including many officers, as a counterbalance to the nation’s Islamic political parties.
In court, Basbug said: “As the Chief of the General Staff I was the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces ... one of the most powerful armies of the world. We can really call it tragicomic to accuse a person commanding such an army of forming and commanding a terrorist organization."
The Turkish news website Bianet quoted him as saying: "I reject these charges. The person who is being accused is the 26th Chief of General Staff of the Republic of Turkey. This date should be noted down in history.” Full transcript here.
Turkey has a vast military – the second largest in NATO after the US. It staged coups to overturn three governments between 1960 and 1980, and in 1997, a government led by the Islamist Welfare Party was forced to resign after an army-backed campaign. Erdogan’s governing AK party is seen as the successor to the Welfare Party.
Some human rights activists say the AK Party is using the courts to intimidate opponents. The US State Department said in a news briefing on Thursday that they were monitoring the situation.
“We are watching this carefully and continuing to make clear our strong concerns about press freedom in Turkey to the Turkish government,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.