Four years after the notorious Ergenekon trials began, the defendants, ranging from generals to journalists and a political party leader, were back on the dock Wednesday, this time, for their acquittal.
A retrial of 274 defendants began in Istanbul's 4th High Criminal Court.
Ergenekon was the alleged name of a secretive terrorist group in a sham case filed by Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ)-linked prosecutors. It was "uncovered" in 2007 when weapons hidden in a house in Istanbul's Ümraniye district were discovered to be linked to the terrorist group.
What followed was a barrage of detentions that included everyone from veteran politician Doğu Perinçek to former army chief İlker Başbuğ, journalists Tuncay Özkan and Mustafa Balbay and other renowned figures. Defendants were held in custody for years before a final verdict in 2013 that sentenced them to various prison terms.
In 2014, it was revealed that the trial was faulty and defendants were released. Further investigation showed the trial was based on false evidence and fabricated charges and was a plot to imprison the critics of FETÖ, whose infiltrators are being charged with being behind three separate coup attempts since 2013.
The Supreme Court of Appeals said in 2016 that the convictions by a local court were invalid, as there was a lack of concrete evidence pointing to the existence of the "Ergenekon terrorist organization," citing a number of violations in the case such as illegal wiretapping, dubious statements of secret witnesses and unlawful searches. The court explained that it had overturned the convictions because "the stages of questioning, trial, and collection of evidence have been found to contradict the principles of fair trial."
Some defendants in the case were present in the courtroom during a brief hearing. Judges adjourned the trial to September after hearing the pleas of lawyers and prosecutors. The prosecutors' request for separating the case of Başbuğ and other high-ranking generals from the Ergenekon trial was accepted by the court.
Yusuf Erikel, a lawyer for Ergenekon defendants, who himself was later imprisoned, asked the court to annul the case "based on an indictment penned by terrorists." He was referring to fugitive prosecutors behind Ergenekon, including Zekeriya Öz, a notorious judiciary member who was also involved in other alleged "sham" trials perpetrated by FETÖ.
FETÖ is accused of conspiring to imprison its critics through sham trials conducted by its infiltrators in the judiciary with the assistance of police officers loyal to the terrorist group.
Former prosecutors Fikret Seçen is being sought as a fugitive.
A trial related to FETÖ membership has been opened against another figure involved in the Ergenekon investigation, Cihan Kansız, along with other FETÖ trials against former judges Hüseyin Özese, Hüsnü Çalmuk and Sedat Sami Haşıloğlu. Former judge Haşıloğlu has yet to be located.
Ergenekon prosecutors Mehmet Ali Pekgüzel and Nihat Taşkın have also been arrested in FETÖ trials.
In April, 13 defendants, including employees of OdaTV news website critical of Gülenists, were acquitted from another case which was allegedly based on fabricated and false evidence concocted by police and prosecutors.