Turkey`s custody laws draw flak after general held

An Istanbul court sent shockwaves through Turkey by sending General Ilker Basbug to Silivri prison.

Updated: Jan 08, 2012, 12:59 PM IST

Istanbul: A day after the jailing of Turkey`s former military chief, pending possible trial on accusations he tried to overthrow the government, newspaper columnists criticised the authorities for failing to reform sweeping pre-trial custody laws.

An Istanbul court sent shockwaves through Turkey by sending General Ilker Basbug to Silivri prison, west of Istanbul, on Friday. The prosecution has yet to lay formal charges against the man who was chief of staff from 2008 to 2010.

While pro-government newspapers hailed the decision as a triumph for democracy, demonstrating no one was above the law, other commentators said his imprisonment highlighted a need for legal reform to rein in powers to arrest and detain.

Mustafa Aykol, a writer often cited as sympathetic to the ruling AK Party, said the penal code referring to "helping a terrorist organisation" risked being used to criminalise an ideology.

"Turkey`s arresting machine, as it has always done, can easily put suspects in prison for years, for accusations that sometimes look very overblown," he wrote in the Hurriyet Daily News in a commentary headlined "Turkey`s arresting machine gone mad”.

Basbug is accused of involvement in the spread of negative propaganda on websites against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan`s government, which swept to power in 2002 and won a third term last June with 50 percent of the vote.

Tensions between the staunchly secularist military and the Islamist-rooted AK Party are long-held, though the party shuns the Islamist label and calls itself socially conservative.

Some 58 serving and 81 retired generals and admirals are in custody, suspected of involvement in plots against Erdogan`s government.
Basbug is also accused of having ties with an ultra-nationalist network dubbed "Ergenekon," that police said they discovered in 2007.

Mehmet Ali Birand, one of Turkey`s leading columnists, said the case against Basbug was implausible and his jailing provided further evidence of an unjust system.

"We shall never break this vicious cycle unless the disgraceful practice of arresting, pending trial, comes to an end, he wrote in Hurriyet.

"The parties responsible for this freak show are none other than political authorities who just don`t want to fix the situation."

Bureau Report