ANKARA: Turkey's constitutional court backed former army chief Ilker Basbug's bid for release from a life jail sentence on Thursday, increasing disarray in the trial of coup plots against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan who is now battling a new foe.
The ruling paves the way for his possible release by a lower court and could be a precedent for more than 200 other defendants jailed for their alleged roles in the 'Ergenekon' conspiracy against Erdogan's government.
Basbug has been held in Silivri prison near Istanbul for 26 months in connection with the 'Ergenekon' case, a trial which helped tame Turkey's once all-powerful military.
The five-year trial, which reached a verdict last August, was key to a decade-long battle between Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party and a secularist establishment that had led modern Turkey from its foundation by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Erdogan is now engaged in a power struggle with a former ally, U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of using his influence in the judiciary and police to engineer a graft probe targeting the government. Gulen denies the charge.
The constitutional court said the failure of the lower court to publish its detailed verdict on the case and send it to the appeals court had violated a clause concerning personal freedom.
"It was decided … to send to the (lower) court a request to do what is necessary in ruling on the applicant's release demand," said the ruling on the court website. It was not clear why the detailed verdict had still not been completed.
Parliamentary speaker Cemil Cicek, from the ruling AK Party, hailed the ruling as a triumph of judicial reforms which have been pushed through parliament in recent years.
"This means that subjects such as long detention periods, rights violations and the failure to try people fairly can now be resolved in Turkey," he told Reuters.