Former Turkish chief of general staff Ilker Basbug, who was jailed for life last year for plotting to overthrow the Islamic-rooted government, walked free from prison on Friday after a court ordered his release.
“We were put behind bars by those who act on revenge and hatred,” Basbug said in an emotional speech following his release from the high-security Silivri prison near Istanbul, where he was held for more than two years.
“Prison means pain, agony and suffering,” he said. “But I do not harbor any revenge or hatred because love conquers hatred.”
The release came a day after the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled that Basbug’s legal rights had been violated, saying that a lower Turkish court had failed to publish its detailed verdict on the case and send it to the appeals court.
The court has imposed an overseas travel ban on the ex-commander, according to local media.
Basbug was initially detained in 2012, before being sentenced to life in prison in August last year, along with hundreds of other military officers who were given long jail terms for their roles in the so-called “Ergenekon” conspiracy to overthrow the Turkish government.
Basbug said he would continue his legal struggle until his last comrade in jail is set free.
“My release is just the beginning,” he said. “I firmly believe that all of my comrades will be released soon. If that does not happen, there is no point in my being released.”
“Our hands are clean. We have only one demand: justice,” he said.
The 71-year-old general, who led the army between 2008 and 2010, again denied the charges.
“Turkish people have understood that we have no interest in plotting a coup, that it is unacceptable to accuse a general of being a member of a terrorist organization,” he said.
The military, which sees itself as the guarantor of Turkey’s secular constitution, has carried out three coups — in 1960, 1971 and 1980 — and pressured an Islamist government to step down in 1997.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spent the best part of his 11 years in power trying to curb the military’s influence.
He has recently sought to bring the Turkish army to his side as he fights for political survival in a bitter feud with his ally-turned-opponent Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric whom he accuses of instigating a corruption scandal to topple him.
In a conciliatory gesture toward the army that increases the chances of retrials for the hundreds of convicted officers, the Turkish parliament in February abolished the specially appointed courts that tried them.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling could set a precedent for more than 200 others jailed for their alleged roles in coup conspiracies.