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Turkish court gives life sentences to 337 in mass coup attempt trial

Turkish police officers patrol near the entrance of the Sincan Penal Institution at the 4th Heavy Penal Court near the capital, Ankara, on November 26, 2020 amid a mass trial for suspects involved in the 2016 coup attempt. (Photo by AFP)

A Turkish court has jailed 337 former pilots and other suspects for life on charges of involvement in the botched July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On Thursday, the court handed 79 aggravated life sentences to fifteen former military officers, including pilots who bombed Ankara, and four civilian covert imams, who orchestrated the putsch from inside a military base near the capital.

All of them were also sentenced to 3,901 years and six months in prison for “attempting to intentionally kill,” “attempting to deprive a person of liberty” and “depriving a person of liberty.”

The court also issued aggravated life sentences against another 291 defendants, while forty-six others were sentenced to life.

Sixty suspects were given jail sentences of various lengths while 75 were acquitted.

Defendants were charged with a long list of crimes, from murder and attempt to violate the constitutional order to an assassination attempt targeting Erdogan.

According to the indictment, defendants orchestrated a major part of the botched putsch from Akinci Air Base northwest of Ankara, including dispatching F-16 fighter jets to bomb state buildings.

The warplanes dropped bombs on parliament, the headquarters of the Special Operations police unit in the Golbasi district and the Ankara Police Department. Jets also struck an area near the Presidential Complex where a large crowd had gathered to defend against an invasion by the putschists.

The bombs killed 68 people in the capital and injured more than 200. Nine civilians also died trying to stop the plotters at the entrance to Akinci base.

Erdogan was on vacation in southern Turkey at the time.

An aggravated life sentence has tougher terms of detention and replaced the death penalty after it was abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey’s drive to join the European Union.

During the 2016 botched putsch, a faction of the Turkish military declared that it had seized control of the country and the government of Erdogan was no more in charge. The attempt was, however, suppressed a few hours later.

Ankara has since accused US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen of having orchestrated 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 denounced the “despicable putsch” and reiterated that he had no role in it.

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 2018, after seven three-month renewals. 

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of having links to Gulen and the failed coup. Many more, 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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