Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party is widely held to have relied
heavily on U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen's influence in
the police and judiciary in breaking the power of the army, which
carried out three coups between 1960 and 1980 and forced an
Islamist-led government from power in 1997.
Now Erdogan is battling a corruption scandal he sees as contrived by
Gulen's Hizmet (Service) movement, and has already dismissed or
reassigned thousands of police and hundreds of judges and
prosecutors in a bid to purge its influence.
The scandal poses one of the greatest threats of Erdogan's 11-year
rule and his response has betrayed what critics say are his
increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Gulen's supporters have said
they are the victims of a witch-hunt.
Parliament passed a law in the early hours, proposed by the AK
Party, abolishing the special courts which convicted hundreds of
army officers and others in the high-profile "Sledgehammer" trial on
charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
The law could mean the officers being retried in regular criminal
courts, a possibility Erdogan mooted last month. It may also lead to
a review of cases involving military, businessmen, journalists and
politicians jailed in a separate "Ergenekon" conspiracy
"The prime minister has on a number of occasions expressed his
dissatisfaction and his concern about some of the Ergenekon trials,"
a senior Turkish official said this month.
"Some of these judges feel so empowered within the system, and now
it is the same judges that are trying to bring down this government
... When they turn against you, you have to fight back," he said.
[to top of second column]
Battling the graft scandal, Erdogan's AK Party has pushed through
laws tightening control over the Internet and the courts this month,
and has proposed a bill envisaging broader powers for the national
Erdogan's critics regard these steps as an authoritarian backlash
against the corruption inquiry. The government says the laws defend
democracy in the face of a bid by Gulen to wield covert influence
over the state, a charge the cleric denies.
Parliament had already moved to abolish the "special authority"
courts in 2012 but that legislation allowed for them to continue
hearing existing cases. Under the new law, they will be definitively
The army, which has in the past hinted at concerns over the role of
the Hizmet movement, has filed a criminal complaint over the coup
plot trials, arguing evidence against serving and retired officers
had been fabricated.
Under the new legislation, the maximum detention period will also be
reduced to 5 years from 7-1/2 years.
(Additional reporting by Nick Tattersall;
writing by Daren Butler;
editing by Nick Tattersall and Jon Boyle)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.