A Turkish court on Wednesday jailed 32 former soldiers for life in a mass trial involving nearly 500 military defendants implicated in a failed 2016 bid to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In one of the last mammoth trials stemming from a bloody night that turned Erdogan on a more authoritarian course and set off a wave of arrests that continue to this day, an Ankara court heard evidence against the presidential guard. The putsch attempt included a raid on Turkey’s main state television broadcaster, whose newscaster was forced to read out a statement from the military junta leaders.
Although both the presidential palace and the parliament building were bombed, Erdogan escaped capture because he was on holiday in a Turkish seaside resort town. The private DHA and state Anadolu new agencies said 32 suspects received life terms.
A lawyer for the president initially told reporters 22 suspects had received life sentences before a more detailed verdict was reported by the agencies later on Wednesday.
These included former lieutenant colonel Umit Gencer, convicted of “violating the constitutional order” by making TRT television read out a “coup declaration”.
The court also handed ex-major Fedakar Akca an aggravated life sentence for leading a team from the regiment to the general staff headquarters on the night on July 15, 2016, Anadolu reported.
Former colonel Muhammet Tanju Poshor received his sentence for directing the occupation of the TRT building.
Poshor was given a separate aggravated life sentence for the crime of attempting to “assassinate the president”.
An aggravated life sentence, which has tougher terms of detention, replaced the death penalty after it was abolished in 2004.
Another ex-major, Osman Koltarla, was in charge of the presidential palace’s security at the time. The court handed him a life sentence. Anadolu said 106 suspects were given sentences of between six and 16 years in jail for other crimes.
The verdict was read out in the country’s largest courtroom which was especially built to hear coup trials at Sincan prison complex in Ankara province. The case into the regiment began in October 2017, with 243 hearings, the state news agency said.
According to Anadolu, the end of the trial marks the end of the cases heard in the capital, nearly five years later.
In an unprecedented legal process, more than 2,500 suspects have been given life sentences in trials across Turkey, the indictments spanning thousands of pages. The failed coup left some 250 people dead, excluding 24 putschists killed on the night.
Turkey accuses US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the failed coup, a claim he strongly denies.
Tens of thousands of people have been arrested over alleged links to Gulen since 2016, and the police raids continue, drawing constant criticism from Turkey’s Western allies.
More than 100,000 people have also been sacked or suspended from the public sector over similar allegations.
The aftermath of the coup attempt has transformed every aspect of contemporary Turkish politics, with Erdogan becoming especially sensitive to the military’s role in the country’s political life.
Earlier this week he accused 104 retired admirals of “hinting at a political coup” after they criticized his plans for a new canal in Istanbul.
Police have arrested 10 of the former navy commanders and ordered four others to turn themselves in.