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Dozens Sentenced to Life in Prison Over Failed Turkey Coup

FILE - paramilitary police and members of the special forces escort former Air Force commander Akin Ozturk and other suspects of last year's failed coup, outside the courthouse at the start of a trial, in Ankara, Turkey.

A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced 34 people to life in prison for plotting to assassinate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a coup attempt last year.

Those sentenced include several high-ranking generals and lieutenants who are said to have participated in a raid on Erdogan’s hotel the night of the failed coup. Erdogan and his family narrowly escaped after the rogue soldiers stormed his hotel.

The trial, which started in February, is one of many taking place to try those accused of participating in the failed coup. Verdicts in some lower level cases have already been handed down, but this marks the first ruling for alleged top-level plotters.

Several of those on trial said it had been unfair and complained of mistreatment during their imprisonment.

"From the moment I was arrested at the air base on July 16, I was treated like a criminal," Ergun Sahin, a former air force lieutenant, told the court.

Another defendant, Gokhan Sen, said, “Words don't mean anything here as we didn't have chance to a fair trial. We are just the grass that elephants trampled on during their fight.”

The government has strongly defended the trial, insisting the judiciary is independent and the ongoing crackdown is necessary to protect Turkish democracy.

More than 240 people died during the failed coup, not including those who launched the failed takeover. Turkish authorities have said they will not compromise in bringing the accused to justice.

Since the failed coup, 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial and another 150,000 detained or dismissed from their jobs. Around 150 media outlets have been shut down and 160 journalists jailed, according to the Turkish Journalists Association.

Turkey accuses U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the attempted coup. Gulen, though, a former ally of Erdogan’s, has strongly denied those claims.