Turkey jails over 300 for life in mass 2016 coup trial
Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim preacher who was once an Erdogan ally, is accused of ordering the failed putsch. His movement has been proscribed as a terrorist group by Ankara, but the 79-year-old denies all charges.
A total of 251 people died and more than 2,000 were injured in what has turned into the defining moment of Erdogan's rule and contemporary Turkish politics. The chaotic attempt was swiftly followed by a fierce government crackdown spanning years and resulting in tens of thousands of arrests.
Turkey's largest courtroom was packed with dozens of security personnel and the presiding judge ordered one protesting defendant to "Sit down!" several times before reading the verdict. He issued multiple life sentences to 27 disgruntled air force pilots who bombed the capital Ankara and civilians who orchestrated the coup attempt from inside the Akinci military base near the capital.
Court documents subsequently obtained by journalists showed 337 defendants handed life sentences for murder, violating the constitutional order and attempting to assassinate Erdogan. Sixty suspects were given jail sentences of various lengths while 75 were acquitted.
"Justice has been served," Ufuk Yegin, who represents a victims' families association, told journalists.
"It was a very important trial for the Turkish judicial system and for the country," added Muaz Ergezen, another lawyer for the victims. "It is a trial that will go down in history."
The then chief of staff general Hulusi Akar – now the defence minister – and other top commanders were held hostage at the military base overnight before their rescue on the morning of July 16, 2016.
F-16 fighter jets struck the parliament building, the road near the presidential palace and the headquarters of the special forces and the Ankara police.
Erdogan was on vacation in southern Turkey at the time.
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 the base.
Gulen, Adil Oksuz – a theology lecturer who officials claim was a key coordinator of what was happening on the ground – and four others are being tried in absentia. Oksuz was detained shortly after the coup bid but released later and is now on the run.
Thursday's verdict culminates a trial that began in August 2017 involving nearly 500 suspects.
Turkey: a country in a state of emergency
Night of terror: the failed coup attempt turned Turkey into a war zone. More than 260 people died. Does the country face the threat of a civil war?
Bloodshed at the Bosphorus: a blood covered resident of Istanbul stands near the Bosphorus Bridge. There were clashes between civilians and the army after the military had blocked the bridge on Friday night. Government sources say that more than 260 people were killed in fighting during the coup attempt
Tanks roll through streets: tanks drove through several cities in the night in a completely surprise move. The Turkish military announced its takeover. The tracked vehicles flattened cars in the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, turning the country into a war zone
Lights out in parliament: after the bombing of parliament in Ankara, the building is in ruins. Fighter jets flew low over the capital and had the citizens panicking
Who owns the Republic Monument? The army not only closed the Bosphorus Bridge: it also occupied Taksim Square, a main transportation hub in Istanbul. The soldiers positioned themselves in front of the Republic Monument
Icon of resistance: Erdogan supporters also protested on the square. A showdown began when a soldier pointed his gun at a man. The army opened fire on the protesting crowd on the square
Shirts off their backs: after the failed coup attempt, rebel soldiers laid down their arms on the Bosphorus Bridge and fled
Put to flight: after the armed forces had surrendered, soldiers tried to get on a bus to flee from the angry masses
Cheering crowds: President Tayyip Erdogan returned to Istanbul on Saturday. Cheering crowds received him at the airport. Erdogan announced that the rebels would pay a heavy price
It's over! Erdogan supporters triumph and wave the Turkish flag after the army's withdrawal. The coup attempt has failed
Bizarre souvenir: a mother took a picture of her daughter on top of a tank. The tank on the Bosphorus Bridge was surrounded by Turkish police
Businessman Kemal Batmaz, accused of assisting Oksuz, was among dozens of defendants handed multiple aggravated life sentences for playing leading roles in Erdogan's attempted overthrow.
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.
The putsch bid was stamped out quickly, but its legacy still haunts Turkey. A fierce government crackdown that followed has muzzled the media and seen tens of thousands arrested in nationwide raids.
More than 100,000 public sector employees, including teachers and judges, were sacked or suspended because of their suspected links to Gulen.
These arrests continue, although they are less sweeping.
Despite the large number of suspects, a separate coup-related trial is even bigger, focusing on the presidential guard's activities and involving 521 suspects.
Ten of a total 289 trials into the failed overthrow of Erdogan are still under way, state news agency Anadolu reported.
More than 2,800 people have been jailed for life, with judges convicting nearly 4,500 suspects since July 2016. (AFP)