Retired Turkish General Ilker Basbug [official website, in Turkish] appeared in an Istanbul court on Monday for the beginning of his trial on terrorism charges. The hearing before the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court occurred in a courtroom at the Silivri prison, where Basbug has been held [Reuters report] since January. Basbug, formerly the leader of all of Turkey's armed forces, was arrested [JURIST report] in January for his alleged involvement with the Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] network, a secular group suspected of planning to overthrow [JURIST report] the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. Last month, the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment [JURIST report] against Basbug after his request to have his case heard by the Supreme State Council, a faction of the Constitutional Court [official website, in Turkish], was denied. The request was denied because the charges faced by the general are related to terrorism, and not the result of his official professional conduct. Basbug is the highest ranking military officer to be indicted in connection with Ergenekon. He has maintained his innocence and has characterized the accusations against him as an attack on the Turkish armed forces [Hurriyet Daily News report]. Basbug will continue to pursue his case's appearance before Turkey's high court.
Approximately 400 individuals are currently on trial in connection with the alleged 2009 Ergenekon plot. The group allegedly planned to assassinate prominent members of Turkey's Christian and Jewish minority groups, blame Islamic terrorists for the deaths and use this to delegitimize the ruling AKP. Earlier this month, an Istanbul court ordered four Turkish journalists to be released [JURIST report] from prison while they wait for their trial to resume. Journalists Ahmet Sik, Nedim Sener, Coskun Musluk and Sait Cakir were arrested in March 2011 and accused of involvement in Ergenekon. Critics of the Islam-rooted AKP ruling party contend that the Ergenekon investigation is intended to silence the party's opponents and impose Islamic principles [JURIST report], but the government denies any such charges.