Mustafa Balbay leaves Sincan Prison with his wife, Gülşah Balbay.
DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin Sönmez
An Istanbul court ruled on Dec. 9 for the release of jailed deputy and journalist Mustafa Balbay, following a Constitutional Court ruling that his lengthy imprisonment amounted to a “violation of the law” and a “violation of his right to be elected.”
“I sincerely hope that this process will be a fresh start,” the journalistand Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Balbay said immediately after leaving Ankara’s Sincan Prison.
Balbay, 53, who was elected to Parliament in the 2011 general elections for the CHP, said he would probably take his parliamentary oath Dec. 10, but wanted more than anything else to take the pledge in front of the public.
Vowing to fight against every kind of unlawfulness and injustice, Balbay particularly asserted that he would take on the duty of supporting the freedom of prisoners subject to unjust treatment and lengthy detentions.
“I feel responsible for the tens, even hundreds of detainees seeking justice, as I am the one who have now closed the doors on them,” he said.
“Even though it isn’t forgettable, this is not the time to bear grudges,” Balbay said, ending his remarks by declaring “hello to freedom and hello to Turkey.”
At present six jailed lawmakers, several mayors, and tens of Gezi Park protesters, journalists, lawyers and soldiers are in prison, Balbay recalled, adding that he hopes his release “will be a fresh start to remove such rights violations.”
Supporters of Balbay, the Association of Cumhuriyet Readers (CUMOK), CHP lawmakers, and party officials, who had gathered in front of Sincan Prison, celebrated the release by dancing the traditional halay. Slogans were chanted such as “Mustafa Balbay is our honor,” “The time will come and the AKP [ruling Justice and Development Party] will give account to the people,” “We are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal,” and “Sincan will be the prison of fascism.”
After leaving prison, Balbay traveled to his house in Ankara’s Yüzüncüyıl district, followed by a long convoy of supporters. His neighbors also welcomed him with applause and embraced him, and he was barely able to reach his home because of the size of the crowd and the huge media attention that had gathered.
The prosecutor in the Ergenekon coup plot case, in which he was sentenced to 34 years and eight months in prison pending appeal, demanded the court release him in the wake of the top court ruling.
His lawyers petitioned the court for their client’s release following the top court ruling on Dec. 6, but the court delayed making its decision until Dec. 9.
The Constitutional Court ruled Dec. 4 that the long imprisonment of the CHP deputy amounted to a “violation of rights.” The Court added that it had completed the draft of the reasoned decision concerning the individual applications of CHP deputies Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal, and was expected to send it to the Istanbul court on the afternoon of Dec. 10.
Balbay had earlier petitioned the Constitutional Court, claiming that his right to a fair trial had been violated, that his long imprisonment amounted to a violation of his rights, and that he had not been able to use his legislative immunity due to his detention.
His lawyers said in their petition that because the Constitutional Court had ruled that Balbay’s rights to be elected were violated, the lower court should release him so that he could exercise his right to hold office. However, despite releasing him, the Court also barred Balbay from traveling abroad.
Ruling welcomed by supporters, parties
Supporters of Balbay, CHP lawmakers and party officials gathered in front of Ankara’s Sincan Prison from early on Dec. 9, despite the cold, in anticipation of his release. Hopes grew at noon when it was heard that the prosecutor in the Ergenekon case – under which Balbay was imprisoned – recommended that he be released.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who talked to Balbay on the phone and is expected to meet with him tomorrow, responded to the news with a brief public note, which said, “Welcome Balbay, we have missed you.”
The Court’s much-anticipated decision has been also welcomed with by senior government representatives.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç praised the ruling, saying “what I said three years ago has now come true,” in reference to his repeated appeals for the release of deputies arrested on coup plot charges since the 2011 elections.
Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek also voiced his satisfaction, while noting that he thought it had "come too late." “I hope the unjust treatment of others who are also subjected to long detentions will be solved as well,” Çiçek said.
Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı underlined the “equality rule,” which he said should be applied to other jailed deputies. “The rules should be applied to those people under the same conditions, as the rule of equality requires. I predict that it [the release decision] will also be made for the others,” Yazıcı said.
Balbay was first detained at his house in Ankara July 1, 2008, as a part of the wide-ranging Ergenekon investigation. After questioning and a search of his home, he was released on July 5, but his computer was seized. However, he was taken into custody once again on March 5, 2009 and arrested the next day.
He is one of the 275 suspects in the case, which is a combination of a number of separate filings over the so-called Ergenekon gang that allegedly aimed to topple the government.
Balbay, who has been kept in a cell since Feb. 28, 2011, was elected as member of Parliament from the CHP in the June 12 general elections in the same year.
The basic evidence about Balbay’s alleged links with the gang is a softcopy diary reportedly found on his computer, which allegedly showed evidence that he was involved in a military coup plan between 2000 and 2005, along with the late İlhan Selçuk, the former chief columnist of Cumhuriyet, and a number of other journalists and high-ranking soldiers.
Balbay demanded to be released immediately after being elected in June 2011, but the court refused the request.
He was eventually sentenced to 34 years and eight months in prison on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government by force and violence” and “unlawfully obtaining documents concerning government security” on Aug. 5.
There are currently six lawmakers in jail apart from Balbay; five from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and one from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The BDP deputies are detained under arrest, while the MHP deputy has been convicted.
The lawyers of BDP deputies petitioned the Diyarbakır Fifth and Sixth High Criminal Courts for the release of their clients as well last week, also in light of the Dec. 4 Constitutional Court ruling. They said the ruling set a precedent for all jailed lawmakers, as one of its main justifications was described as an “immoderate violation of the representation of the people.”
Decisions from the Diyarbakır courts are also expected this week.