Retired Turkish general Ilker Basbug, formerly the leader of all of Turkey's armed forces, was arrested on Friday for his alleged involvement with the Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] network. 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 Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. Basbug is the highest ranking military officer to be indicted [BBC report] in connection with Ergenekon. Approximately 400 individuals are currently on trial in connection with Ergenekon. Basbug claims that he is innocent and lower-ranking military officials who have been indicted state that they were just acting within the chain of command. 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.
In March 2010 the Turkish government indicted 33 defendants [JURIST report] on charges of attempting to overthrow the government and establish military rule, and Turkish police detained 20 people [JURIST report] in connection with the Ergenekon plot. Turkish prosecutors charged [JURIST report] an army general and a state prosecutor with belonging to Ergenekon and plotting to overthrow the AKP. In February of that year more than 40 military officers were arrested and charged in a separate coup attempt [JURIST report], the so-called Sledgehammer plot [Al Jazeera backgrounder], to provoke a military confrontation with Greece and take advantage of the ensuing chaos. Trials against the Ergenekon group started [JURIST report] in October 2008, and nearly 400 people have been charged in connection with it. The prosecution of military officials comes amid a larger effort by the AKP to reform the Turkish legal system as a step toward EU accession [materials; CFR backgrounder]. In May 2010, Turkey's opposition Republican People's Party [party website, in Turkish] filed suit [JURIST report] in the country's Constitutional Court [official website, in Turkish] in an effort to halt proposed constitutional amendments that would reform the judiciary allowing military and government officials to be tried in civilian court.