Summary and Current Status
Cihan Demirci, professor in the departments of biology and zoology at Istanbul University’s Faculty of Science, was released without charge on April 17, 2009.
Dr. Demirci was detained by Turkish authorities in connection with the “Ergenekon” case. Ergenekon—which, in a legend about the genesis of the Turkish people, refers to the Turks’ mythical homeland—is the name given to an alleged illegal ultranationalist group consisting of former military and police officers, politicians, journalists, and some intellectuals. Over the past four years several hundred people have been detained in connection with the investigation. More than 175 of those have been arrested and accused of plotting to destabilize the country and paving the way for a military coup. Since the first cache of weapons was discovered in 2007, additional weapons have been found, including, in early 2009, missile launchers, plastic explosives, and ammunition. Given that a significant number of those arrested in the Ergenekon case in 2009 are opposition figures from intellectual circles and secularist civil society groups, there has been growing concern that the investigation has become politicized and is also targeting critics and opponents of the ruling AKP’s policies.
On October 20, 2008, in a 2,455-page indictment, 86 people—including senior retired military officers, alleged members of organized crime, leading media figures, academics, lawyers, and activists from civil society organizations—were brought to trial for crimes they are accused of committing as members of Ergenekon.
After the first trial began, two more groups of people, also alleged to be members of Ergenekon, were indicted. The second indictment in March 2009 named 56 people, and the third indictment in August 2009 named 52 people. On August 6, 2009, judges in the Istanbul 13th High Court decided to combine the second and third indictments and hold a mass trial of all 108 co-defendants. That second trial began on September 7, 2009. A courtroom with a capacity of 740 people was built in Silivri prison, where many of the defendants are held, specifically for this trial.
During the ensuing three years, many more groups of individuals were accused and subsequently indicted as part of the Ergenekon case. By mid 2012, 18 of the indictments were merged into one case with a total of approximately 275 defendants indicted on various charges for their alleged connections to the Ergenekon organization. In late November 2012, lawyers of some of the defendants were quoted in the press as saying that the prosecution had finished presenting its case, in which it had called 159 witnesses. The lawyers reportedly complained that the defense had been instructed that the defendants would be permitted only 15 minutes each to provide their defense before the court. 65 defendants remain incarcerated. The remaining defendants were released pending the outcome of the trial. To date, none of the defendants has been convicted.
According to news reports, all of the individuals who have been indicted in this case are accused of carrying out at least one activity listed in the indictment in order to overthrow the democratically elected government of Turkey. Alleged activities reportedly include setting up and leading a terrorist organization; attempting to destroy the government and parliament or hindering them from carrying out their duties; recording personal data and leaking footage of compromising recordings; acquiring, destroying, falsifying, and stealing secret documents on Turkish intelligence; and carrying explosives and firing weapons to threaten lives.
(*last updated 2/2013)