Hundreds jailed for life in Turkey for roles in 2016 coup plot

Massive trial part of a post-coup crackdown that has seen over 77,000 imprisoned

Riot police officers at the entrance of the  courthouse during the trial of 475 defendants, including generals and fighter jet pilots, in Sincan, Ankara, Turkey. (AP Photo)

Riot police officers at the entrance of the courthouse during the trial of 475 defendants, including generals and fighter jet pilots, in Sincan, Ankara, Turkey. (AP Photo)

 

A Turkish court sentenced military and civilian personnel at an air base to life prison sentences, proclaiming them guilty of involvement in a failed coup attempt in 2016, the state-run news agency reported.

A total of 475 defendants, including generals and fighter jet pilots at the Akinci air base, on the outskirts of the capital Ankara, were on trial for the past three years, accused of directing the coup and bombing key government buildings, including a section of the parliament building.

The massive trial was one of two main trials involving suspected members of a network led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the failed attempt.

Mr Gulen, who was also named among the defendants, has denied involvement in the coup that resulted in around 220 deaths and injured thousands.

About 30 coup-plotters were also killed.

The court convicted four men, civilians accused of being the go-between Mr Gulen’s movement and some military officers, of crimes against the state, attempts to kill the president and 77 counts of murder. It sentenced them to 79 separate life sentences, the Anadolu Agency reported.

Fifteen officers, including one-star generals, were also sentenced to the same term.

All 19 were held responsible for the deaths of nine people who were killed by gunshots and 68 people who died in aerial attacks on the parliament building, a police special operations headquarters, the Ankara police department and an area close to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential complex.

A total of 337 other defendants were also sentenced to life imprisonment.

The court acquitted 70 of the defendants of all charges.

Other defendants received prison terms ranging between six and 16 years.

The court ruled for Mr Gulen, an alleged top operative in his movement, and four other defendants still wanted by the Turkish authorities to be tried separately over the charges.

The defendants were expected to appeal Thursday’s verdicts, which were welcomed by members of Mr Erdogan’s ruling party.

Leyla Sahin Usta, a deputy chairman of the ruling party, said: “We are experiencing the joy of seeing the defendants, who were already put on trial by the public’s conscience, receive their punishment.

“This is the end of the era of coups in Turkey. ”

Trainee pilots

However, Busra Taskiran insisted that her fiance, Yunus Kilicaslan, who was a trainee F-16 pilot at the time of the coup, was wrongly accused.

She said her fiance and other trainee pilots were “convicted today for life despite not taking part in the coup attempt, despite not taking part in any activity that night, despite fighting [against the coup] by locking themselves in a room.”

Ms Taskiran said: “They are very young. When they were thrown in prison, they were 24 and 25. Now they are convicted for life?

“How do you explain this in the spirit of justice?”

The father of another convicted trainee pilot, Alper Kalin, said the court had failed to consider evidence that pointed at some trainee pilots’ innocence.

“We are not happy with this verdict. We will carry this to the appropriate places,” he said.

Prosecutors accused the coup-plotters of using Akinci air base as their headquarters.

Turkey’s then military chief, General Hulusi Akar, who is the current defence minister, and other commanders were held captive for several hours at the base on the night of the coup.

The prosecutors charged the defendants with attempts against the state and the constitutional order, an attempt to assassinate the president, leading a terrorist organisation and murder, among other charges.

The trial, which opened on August 1st, 2017, was part of a post-coup crackdown that has imprisoned about 77,000 people and seen another 130,000 fired from their government jobs.

On the opening day, dozens of the defendants were paraded into the courthouse handcuffed, with two paramilitary police officers on each arm, as some protesters threw stones and shouted “Murderers!” – AP