Mass trial of Turkey alleged coup ringleaders resumes

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R),Speaker of the Grand National Assembly, Ismail Kahraman (L) Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (2nd L), and Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R), head of the Republican People's Party (CHP) visit the Anitkabir, the mausoleum of the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, during a ceremony marking the 94th anniversary of Republic Day on October 29, 2017 in Ankara. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2017
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Mass trial of Turkey alleged coup ringleaders resumes

ANKARA: A mass trial in Turkey is set to resume Monday of more than 220 suspects, including former generals, accused of being among the ringleaders of last year’s coup bid to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The suspects face life sentences if convicted of charges ranging from using violence to try to overthrow the government and parliament, to killing nearly 250 people.
Turkey blames the July 15, 2016 coup attempt on Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a claim he strongly denies.
Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, is among several of the 221 suspects named in the indictment but are on the run, with the rest set to appear in court.
The attempted coup left 249 people dead, not counting 24 coup-plotters killed on the night of the putsch attempt.
Also among the suspects in one of Turkey’s highest-profile prosecutions are several high-ranking military officers including ex-air force commander Akin Ozturk.
Several of those on trial are accused of leading the so-called “Peace At Home Council,” the name the plotters are said to have given themselves the night of the failed overthrow.
The case is being heard in Sincan near the capital Ankara, at a facility that was purpose-built to hear coup-related trials.
In the opening trial in May, alleged coup plotters were booed by protesters as they entered the courtroom, with some shouting slogans in favor of “death penalty” for the suspects.
The trial is one of many being held across the country to judge the coup suspects in what is the biggest legal process of Turkey’s modern history.
The government has launched a massive crackdown under state of emergency laws imposed in the wake of the failed coup which have been extended several times.
Over 140,000 people, including public sector employees, have been sacked or suspended over alleged links to the coup while 50,000 people have been arrested since July 2016.
This week will also see other hearings in Istanbul including journalists from opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper who are standing trial on charges of aiding and abetting terrorist organizations.
One of Turkey’s acclaimed authors Asli Erdogan will appear before a court Tuesday on charges of spreading terror propaganda on account of her links to a pro-Kurdish newspaper.
In December she was released pending trial, after 132 days of pre-trial detention.
Last week, an Istanbul court ordered the release on judicial control of eight human rights activists including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, as well as a German and a Swede.
The cases involving journalists have received criticism from human rights advocates who claim the government is seeking to stifle dissent.


Russian ‘agent’ held on charges of seeking to infiltrate US govt

Maria Butina. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 July 2018
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Russian ‘agent’ held on charges of seeking to infiltrate US govt

  • Maria helped arrange visits by Torshin and other Russian officials to major political events
  • The arrest was announced Monday hours after Trump finished a summit and a press conference with Putin in Helsinki

WASHINGTON: A Russian gun rights enthusiast who built a network of powerful Republican contacts under the direction of a Kremlin power-broker was ordered held without bond Wednesday after FBI counterintelligence agents accused her of conspiring to infiltrate the US government.
US prosecutors said Maria Butina, 29, exploited her close links with the powerful NRA gun lobby while posing as a visiting graduate student to endear herself with senior Republicans, guided by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s major political supporters, Alexander Torshin.
Butina was charged in the Washington federal court with acting illegally as an unregistered agent for the Russian government while she lived in Washington over the past three years with her boyfriend, a veteran Republican operative.
They called Butina a “covert Russian agent” who maintained contacts with Russian spies and pursued a mission “to penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.”
That included offering sex to get a job in a US lobbying group, according to documents filed in court by the Department of Justice.
Butina pleaded not guilty to two criminal charges of conspiring to act as a foreign agent without registering, and acting as a foreign agent. The first charge brings a maximum five years in prison, while the second carries a maximum 10 years.
“This is not a spy case,” her lawyer Robert Driscoll said after Butina appeared in court in an orange jumpsuit.
“The government is speculating that someone is a Russian spy, but thousands of Russians met intelligence operatives” in the United States, he said.

Butina’s arrest Sunday added to the political turmoil in Washington over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and allegations that President Donald Trump’s campaign collaborated with the Russians.
The arrest was announced Monday hours after Trump finished a summit and a press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, where the US leader rejected the US intelligence community’s verdict that the Russians meddled to support him over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race.
Trump reversed that stance a day later under heavy attack from US politicians of both parties.
FBI agents described a long-term operation stretching back as far as 2011 when Torshin met then-National Rifle Association president David Keene and Butina launched a mirror Russian gun rights group named The Right to Bear Arms.
She befriended the Republican operative, unnamed in the indictment but widely identified as Paul Erickson, 56, who opened doors to NRA and Republican circles.
Butina began visiting the United States and was regularly hosted by the NRA and other groups, and became a “life member” of the American gun rights lobby.
Pictures of her meeting prominent Republican governors and congressman, and the powerful leaders of the NRA, are splashed across her social media accounts.
In July 2015, Butina was selected to ask Trump a question about his plans for ties with Russia at a rally in Las Vegas.
“I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin.... I don’t think you’d need the sanctions,” he said, in possibly his first campaign trail pronouncement on the issue.
Her activities ramped up after she moved to the US capital on a student visa in 2016, attending American University graduate school while she lived with Erickson.
Hardly masking her networking efforts, she told colleagues at the school that she had a nearly direct line to Putin.
She helped arrange visits by Torshin and other Russian officials to major political events like the National Prayer Breakfast, as they sought to construct a “back channel” with sympathetic, influential Americans.
Meanwhile Erickson, citing his Russian connections, tried to arrange a meeting between Putin and Trump in early 2016.
And that year Butina reportedly met Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. at a private dinner in Louisville, Kentucky during the NRA annual convention.

The FBI’s investigation of Butina began before the probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and the indictment did not involve Mueller’s team.
But the two investigations clearly overlapped, and Butina has already been interviewed by the Senate committee studying Russian meddling.
On Wednesday Moscow said the arrest was a political move seeking undermine the gains of the Helsinki summit.
“This happened with the obvious task of minimizing the positive effect,” of the Trump-Putin meeting, said foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
“There is an impression the FBI is simply carrying out a clearly political order,” she said.