Turkey: Former top judge downplays 1997 coup

Published 09.06.2015 18:55

Yekta Güngör Özden, former head of the Constitutional Court, told a court trying leaders of a 1997 coup, that the process was not a coup and judges did not face any pressure at the time.

Özden testified as a witness in the 77th hearing of the trial on Tuesday in Ankara. The court is trying 103 defendants including former generals on the charges of overthrowing the government through a military coup. All defendants were released pending trial in previous hearings.

Yekta Güngör Özden, known for his staunchly secular views and opposition to so-called "political Islam," denied that there was pressure, "neither a coup" in 1997. The coup is often referred to as the "postmodern" coup as it was carried out by immense pressure on the government and widespread blacklisting practices toward the conservative population.

The top judge, who led the Constitutional Court from 1991 to 1998, said he never witnessed any pressure on the government and in the court. When asked about a briefing at the army headquarters for judges on "reactionary forces," a name given to conservative communities, Özden said he and other judges simply attended the briefing eight days before the collapse of the government because they were invited, "not forced."

Özden denied allegations that the Chief of General Staff warned him not to drag down a lawsuit for the closure of the ruling Welfare Party (RP). "I told him that it was a lie that the lawsuit was proceeding slowly. I never encountered any pressure," he said. Özden also claimed he was unaware of a lawsuit for the RP's closure before he received a document from the prosecutor.

The judiciary was among the criticized institutions for its alleged role in the coup after prosecutors filed for the closure of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's RP on charges of "actions against the secular republic." The party was closed in 1998, one year after the coup while its leaders including Erbakan were banned from politics.

The Feb. 28 coup against the so-called Islamist government of the Welfare Party (RP) took place in 1997, two years after the RP came to power. The rift between the government and the army, which saw itself as the defender of secularism, widened and evolved into an all-out conflict between so-called secular circles and the government.

Through harsh statements, top generals, Supreme Court officials and other "defenders" of secularism warned the government against Islamist tendencies.

Necmettin Erbakan would step down after the National Security Council, the top state body under the influence of the military issued an ultimatum to the government on Feb. 28, 1997.

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