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Turkish court gives aggravated life sentences to 24 over 2016 botched putsch

This file photo shows the defendants of the main coup attempt trial, with former Air Force Commander General Akin Ozturk in the forefront, being brought to the courthouse in Sincan Prison Complex, Turkey, on May 22, 2017. (Photo by AP)

A court in Turkey has handed down aggravated life sentences to 24 people, including senior military officers, on charges of involvement in the failed July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Anadolu news agency said the judge of the Fourth High Criminal Court in Ankara handed 17 of those sentenced 141 aggravated life terms each for “violating the constitution” and “attempting to assassinate the president.”

There is no possibility of amnesty in aggravated life imprisonment, which lasts until the death of the convict. Such sentences also carry harsher prison conditions.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that these 17 convicts, including former Air Force Commander Akin Ozturk, were alleged members of the so-called “Peace at Home Council,” a sub-group of the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).

In mid-July 2016, a faction of the Turkish military declared that it had seized control of the country and the government of President Erdogan was no more in charge.

The attempt was, however, suppressed a few hours later and the botched putsch left 251 people killed, many of them unarmed civilians, and nearly 2,200 injured.

Ankara has since accused Turkish dissident Fethullah Gulen, now 78, of having orchestrated and masterminded the coup.

The opposition figure is also accused of being behind a long-running campaign to topple the government via infiltrating the country’s institutions, particularly the army, police and the judiciary. 

Gulen has since strongly denied any involvement in the coup attempt against Erdogan.  

The dissident cleric, a Green Card-holder who has been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s, has already called on Ankara to end its “witch hunt” of his followers, a move he says is aimed at “weeding out anyone it deems disloyal to President Erdogan and his regime.”

The case, which was concluded on Thursday, involved 224 suspects and has been one of the biggest trials over the failed coup. The trial had begun in May 2017 in the country's largest courtroom inside a prison complex in Sincan, outside the capital Ankara.

The sources further said that seven other suspects, out of the 24, were given between one and 17 aggravated life sentences each.

They also noted that the remaining 174 convicted defendants were handed sentences of varying lengths. The court acquitted 33 of the 224 defendants.

Speaking on the issue, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül on Thursday told a press conference that “The Turkish judiciary has set a great example of justice.”

Turkish officials have frequently called on their US counterparts to extradite Gulen, but their demands have not been taken heed of.

Turkey ended the nationwide state of emergency, imposed since the coup, in July last year, after seven three-month renewals. 

Since the failed coup, Turkish authorities have formally arrested more than 77,000 people over purported links to FETO and Gulen, while another 150,000 people, including military staff, civil servants and journalists, have been sacked or suspended from work over the same accusations.

The international community and rights groups have been highly critical of the Turkish president over the massive dismissals and the crackdown.

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