ANKARA, Turkey — A former military chief was jailed Friday, accused of leading a terror organization and conspiring to bring down Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, his lawyer said, becoming the most senior officer to face trial in a series of investigations into alleged anti-government plots.
General Ilker Basbug was arrested and placed in a prison near Istanbul overnight after seven hours of questioning by prosecutors investigating allegations that the military funded dozens of websites aimed at discrediting the Islamic-rooted government in 2009.
Some of the suspects already charged in the case, including senior generals and admirals, have said they acted in a chain of command. Basbug, who retired in August 2010, led the military at the time.
The jailing of a former military chief — unimaginable a few years back — comes as the government, which has won three successive elections, has sharply reduced the political clout of the military. Military leaders have staged three coups and forced an Islamist prime minister to quit in 1997.
Lawyer Ilkay Sezer said Basbug denied accusations during questioning. NTV television said the former general told court officials the charges were "tragicomical."
Basbug himself sounded bewildered by the charges.
"The 26th chief of military staff of the Turkish Republic is being accused of forming and leading a terror organization," the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Basbug as telling journalists before being taken to prison. "I leave it up to the great Turkish people to decide."
The alleged conspiracy was first reported by a Turkish newspaper in 2009, which printed a photocopy of an alleged plan to damage the reputation of the government by portraying it as corrupt. Investigations into the reported conspiracy were inconclusive because the original document, allegedly signed by a navy colonel, could not be found. The probe was revived last year after an unidentified military officer allegedly sent the original document to Istanbul's chief prosecutor.
Hundreds of people, including civilians, retired generals and active-duty officers, are already on trial accused of terrorism charges for alleged involvement in separate plots that prosecutors say were aimed at destabilizing Turkey and bringing the government down. The military says 58 serving generals or admirals are in jail.
Erdogan's opponents see the trials as a government effort to intimidate them through the courts while the long imprisonments without verdicts and alleged irregularities in the handling of evidence have cast doubts over the legal process.
Last year, the nation's top four military commanders, including the chief of staff that succeeded Basbug, resigned in protest against the arrests and prosecutions of military officers.