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Hundreds Sentenced to Life Terms in 2016 Turkey Coup Attempt

Riot police officers stand at the entrance of a courthouse during the trial of 475 defendants, including generals and fighter jet pilots, in Sincan, Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 26, 2020.

A Turkish court on Thursday handed down life sentences to more than 300 military and civilian personnel who had been on trial for three years for their roles in a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in July 2016.

They were among 475 people who had gone on trial in August 2017 in connection with the failed coup. The takeover attempt left more than 250 people dead and 2,000 people injured.

The incident led to a massive crackdown; 130,000 people were fired from their government jobs.

Prosecutors accused the defendants in the mass trial, including some generals and fighter jet pilots, of directing the coup and bombing key government buildings, including a section of Turkey’s parliament. They were also accused of holding then-military chief Hulusi Akar, who now serves as defense minister, captive for several hours. Authorities say the defendants directed the plot from the Akinci base outside the capital, Ankara.

A Turkish soldier patrols next to the entrance of the Sincan Penal Institution at the 4th Heavy Penal Court near Ankara, on Nov. 26, 2020.
A Turkish soldier patrols next to the entrance of the Sincan Penal Institution at the 4th Heavy Penal Court near Ankara, on Nov. 26, 2020.

The defendants were also accused of working at the behest of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of masterminding the action. He has denied any wrongdoing. Turkey has sought his extradition.

The court ruled that Gulen and four others wanted by the Turkish authorities should be tried separately.

Seventy people were acquitted in the case, while some received prison sentences of between six and 16 years.

The deputy chairman of Erdogan’s Justice and Development party, Leyla Sahin Usta, speaking to state-run Anadolu news agency, said the party is “experiencing the joy of seeing the defendants, who were already put on trial by the public’s conscience, receive their punishment.” The chairman also said the development Thursday marked “the end of the era of coups in Turkey.”

Loved ones of some defendants said they were not happy with the outcome. Busra Taskiran, fiancee of a trainee F-16 pilot, told The Associated Press her boyfriend and other trainee pilots were “convicted today for life, despite not taking part in the coup attempt.” She said they fought against the coup “by locking themselves in a room.”

The father of another convicted trainee pilot, Alper Kalin, said the court did not consider evidence that could have proved the innocence of some trainees.