A Turkish court handed down life sentences to two aging generals who were behind a 1980 military takeover that resulted in widespread torture, arrests and deaths, making it the bloodiest in Turkey's coup-ridden history.
General Kenan Evren, 96, who came to symbolize the “Pasha” officer class that dominated Turkish politics over decades, also served as president after three years of military rule.
Evren, who may not serve his sentence because of his age, never expressed regret for the coup that he always argued ended years of left-right street fighting that had killed thousands.
“Should we feed them in prison for years instead of hanging them?” he asked in a speech in 1984, referring to those executed after the coup.
Fifty people were executed by the military, about 600,000 were arrested and hundreds disappeared.
A court in Ankara found Evren, 96, and Tahsin Sahinkaya, 89, guilty of setting the stage for a military intervention, ousting the civilian government by force and committing acts against the forces of the state.
Prosecutors had demanded so-called aggravated life sentences for Evren, who became president after the coup, and Sahinkaya, the former air force commander.
The ruling sparked cheers and applause from the public gallery inside the courtroom, who chanted: "This is just the beginning, the coup authors will pay the price."
The generals seized power on Sept. 12, 1980, but were only brought to trial for their role in the coup in 2012, after the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party secured constitutional amendments in 2010 to revoke their immunity.
Evren and Sahinkaya, who are being treated at military hospitals in Ankara and Istanbul respectively, appeared via video screens for Wednesday's hearing.
The case against Evren, who had lived for decades in retirement on the Aegean coast, was part of moves by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to break the domination of the armed forces in politics.
The generals, known as “Pashas,” forced four governments from power between 1960 and 1997.
Hundreds of other officers have been jailed after investigations known as “Ergenekon” and “Sledgehammer.” The army has also been excluded from state bodies that had exerted influence on politics, especially after the 1980 coup.
Evren and Sahinkaya are expected to appeal the verdict.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.