ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The ailing, 94-year-old former Turkish president who came to power in a 1980 military coup could face life imprisonment for the military takeover, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Kenan Evren and former air force commander Tahsin Sahinkaya are charged with crimes against the state, said prosecutor Huseyin Gorusen. A court will now have to decide whether to accept the indictment and order a trial.
Evren, who as military chief of staff led the 1980 coup before becoming Turkey’s president from 1982 to 1989, was questioned by Gorusen in June, after constitutional amendments lifted the coup leaders’ immunity and allowed them to be brought to trial.
The legal action against Evren and Sahinkaya — the two surviving coup leaders — comes as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government, which has won three successive elections, is curtailing the military’s clout in Turkey.
Authorities are also pursuing a series of trials against hundreds of people accused of involvement in more recent alleged coup plots, including hundreds of active and retired military officers. The trials were welcomed at first, but long imprisonments without verdicts and alleged irregularities in the handling of evidence have stirred claims that the government is manipulating the legal process.
Evren was initially regarded as a hero by many Turks because the military takeover stopped fighting between leftist and right-wing groups that made some people wonder whether Turkey was headed for a civil war. But he is also remembered for the torture of suspected militants and their supporters and for introducing a constitution that restricted freedoms and formalized the military’s role in politics.
Erdogan’s government recently initiated negotiations with opposition parties to rewrite the constitution ordered by Evren.
Gorusen pressed ahead with the indictment despite some legal experts’ view that a statute of limitations has expired. He said in his view that was not the case.
The prosecutor said the former president would be tried for staging the coup and suggested that a separate trial for the alleged torture could follow.
“There are separate investigations over the torture claims,” Gorusen said.
In a related development Tuesday, a Turkish prosecutor summoned a former military chief for questioning as part of the trial of current and former officers alleged to have tried to destabilize Erdogan’s government in 2009, the state-run agency reported.
The prosecutor’s office in Istanbul asked retired Gen. Ilker Basbug to testify as a “suspect” on Thursday, the Anadolu Agency said.
The military personnel are alleged to have funded websites aimed at discrediting the Islamic-rooted government in 2009. The accused have said they acted in a chain of command.
Basbug, who retired in August 2010, led the military at the time.