[JURIST] A court in Istanbul on Thursday ordered the release and retrial of 230 prisoners convicted for their involvement in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot [JURIST news archive]. The scheme, which originated as early as 2003, was aimed at overthrowing Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan [BBC profile]. The ruling [Reuters report] came one day after Turkey's Constitutional court [official website] determined the prisoners' rights were violated during trial by the court's flawed handling of digital evidence and its rejection of key testimony for the defendants by ex-military heads. The nearly two-year trial culminated in the 2012 conviction of over 300 Turkish Army officers for planning to bomb mosques in Istanbul and to create political friction with Greece. The ensuing political chaos, in theory, would allow the politically dominant military to bring down Erdogan's ministership. A retrial, according to the head judge of the Constitutional court, is the only way to correct [Hurriyet Daily News report] the violations that occurred during the trial phase. During the retrial process many top army commanders will resume their military positions.
Thursday's ruling comes more than four years after officials began arresting suspects in the alleged coup plot. Arrests occurred before and after the start of the 2010 trial [JURIST report]. Adjudication came to a close when the first of more than 300 verdicts [JURIST report] was delivered in September 2012, including three twenty-year sentences for former military officers. In June 2012 high drama developed when defense lawyers in the case boycotted [JURIST report] the court proceedings to protest the judge's refusal to allow testimony that potentially could have refuted key prosecutorial evidence. In August 2011 a Turkish court continued an ongoing arrest campaign by issuing arrest warrants [JURIST report] for several Turkish generals and admirals accused of creating anti-government websites in 2009. In June 2011 two top military officials were arrested [JURIST report] after appearing in court to testify about documents related to the coup that were discovered in 2010. The majority of the warrants, arrests and indictments [JURIST reports] took place between April and July 2010, when over 300 defendants were formally implicated in a plan to overthrow the Turkish government.