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Opinion: New doubts about Turkish rule of law

The verdicts in the controversial Ergenekon trial have only divided Turkish society further, says DW's Baha Güngör.

Güngör, Bahaeddin Multimediadirektion REGIONEN, MSOE - Türkisch DW2_8172. Foto DW/Per Henriksen 11.10.2012

Baha Güngör is head of DW's Turkish service

As far as press freedom and the rule of law are concerned, Turkey's international standing is not very high. Following the verdicts in a questionable trial of alleged conspirators who are said to have plotted a military coup against the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, there is room for new doubts about Turkey's adherence to the rule of law.

The court described the Ergenekon underground organization as a terror network, and most of the 275 people who were alleged to have been its members have been given prison sentences. In some cases, their prison terms amounted to 150 years. Only 21 people were found not guilty. Journalists, elected legislators, university rectors, academics and former senior military figures, all said to have made up the "deep state" working against the elected government of the conservative religious Party for Justice and Development (AKP), have thus been removed from society and no longer represent a risk.

The trial has only deepened the rift between Erdogan's supporters and opponents in Turkey, and it will not be possible to heal this division in Turkish society any time soon. Over the course of the five-year trial with its 23 different charge-sheets, it became all but impossible to gain an overview of the validity of the evidence and the statements of the witnesses. Observers could no longer distinguish which of the results of the investigation were true and which were false.

The only thing that is certain is that Erdogan has achieved a pyrrhic victory in his campaign against the secular order of the Turkish republic. He is no longer the prime minister of all the people, but only the prime minister of his own voters. In the last elections two years ago, they gave him almost 50 percent of the vote and a democratically unchallengeable victory.

Domestic peace is under threat

Those sentenced will certainly appeal. They have a good chance: as the verdicts were announced by the court sitting in the Silivri special prison near Istanbul, there was uproar among those present, among them relatives of the accused, which meant that many of the sentences could not be heard.

There is reason to fear that the unrest of the last two months and the excessive violence of the security forces against anti-Erdogan demonstrators in many Turkish cities will only increase after this mammoth trial. The spiral of violence represents a massive threat to the domestic peace of this NATO country.

But as well as being a NATO member, Turkey is also surrounded by Middle East flashpoints and has the Syrian civil war on its doorstep. That makes it very important for its Western allies. They want calm, level-headed and reliable government in Ankara. But Turkey's leaders will be busier keeping the fragile peace at home than making sure the country continues along its strong economic trajectory.

It's unfortunate that political leaders who enjoy the democratically legitimate backing of their people have made the mistake of assuming that they are infallible and irreplaceable.

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