ISTANBUL – A Turkish court on Thursday sentenced several defendants suspected of involvement in the 2016 failed coup and hundreds of people to life in prison on one of the highlights of the overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The 475 defendants’ case focused on a group of high-ranking military officers and civilians who set up command at Akinci Air Base near the capital, Ankara, on the night of the coup and ordered warplanes, helicopters and army units to attack key targets and attack. . Among the 337 defendants who received multiple life sentences were members of a small panel accused of conducting a coup attempt.
The punishments are a cornerstone of the four-year criminal proceedings in Turkey since the coup attempt and are being brought to justice, who have been widely rejected by the public as the main perpetrators of the violent attempt to seize power. But the government’s overwhelming repression of subsequent contradictions has undermined democracy and the rule of law in the country.
During the two-year state of war after the coup, authorities detained about 100,000 people and rescued 150,000 civil servants from their jobs. Detainees included political opponents of the government, Kurdish activists and human rights defenders.
This has led many to accuse the government of using the coup as a pretext for a wider crackdown on disagreements.
The courts have now closed almost all of the 289 trials of the coup attempt and convicted more than 4,000 people.
Legal experts have criticized the use of mass trials against thousands of defendants who were still vaguely involved in the coup, including the sentencing of army cadets and others who were taken to the streets that night with little knowledge of what happened. But proponents of the process point out that, for the first time in the history of military coups, Turkey is conducting an extended legal process on what happened.
The coup failed when hundreds of thousands of civilians blocked the streets and units loyal to the government took control. More than 250 people died, many of them police officers and civilians, attacked by rogue army units.
Four civilians, Kemal Batmaz, Hakan Cicek, Harun Binis and Nurettin Oruc, were found guilty that night of conducting a coup at Akinci base. They are accused of following the orders of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S. Islamic preacher who has become Mr. Erdogan’s bitter rival.
The case was indicted alongside Mr. Gulen, who was in the United States at the time of the coup, and another civilian, Adil Oksuz, who was detained outside Akinci Air Base the morning after the coup but was later released. But they were among six defendants who were later separated because they remain free.
Among the most prominent military commanders was Brig. General Bekir Ercan Van, commander of Incirlik Air Base, where U.S. forces are also stationed and fly from there to missions in Iraq and Syria.
The general ordered tankers to fly on fuel to Turkish F-16 aircraft that carried out bombings over Ankara during the coup attempt, at least one pilot, who was among the defendants, claimed.
After the collapse of the coup, General Van approached his American colleagues at Incirlik and sought asylum, but was denied.
At least 10 pilots who flew over Ankara and bombed sites in the capital, including Parliament and two police stations, were sentenced to multiple life sentences. Evidence that led to their conviction included audio recordings of the pilots ’conversations with the control tower describing their actions.
Lieutenant Colonel Hakan Karakus, accused of leading F-16 pilots, and two Air Force captains, accused of delivering bombing orders, were also sentenced to 79 life sentences.
Colonel Karakus General Akin Ozturk’s son-in-law, commander of the Turkish Air Force at the time of the coup attempt. General Ozturk was sentenced to life imprisonment several times in 2019 for his role as a key leader in the failed coup.
The trial focused on 77 responsibilities of more than 250 people who died in the coup attempt. Nineteen of those convicted received 79 free lives without parole, each for all 77 people killed, and two for charges of overthrowing the Constitution and assassinating the president.
According to the published judgment, 291 defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment without release and 46 were released on parole. The court acquitted 80 defendants and sentenced the remainder to milder sentences.
At the trial, most of the accused denied participating in the coup attempt. It was claimed that either orders were being obeyed or that the entire narrative of the coup attempt was the construction of the Erdogan government, Mr Gulen also claimed.
Mr Gulen and his supporters in the United States have repeatedly denied their involvement in the coup.
But the evidence produced during the trial of the Akinci base case was considered one of the most important of all the criminal proceedings.
The videotape of the security cameras at Akinci Air Base confirmed the presence of some defendants, including those who were tired in the hallway and carrying weapons. During the audio-recorded conversations, the pilots described their intention to strike a blow to the government, thus confirming the prosecution’s case.
Some of the lower-ranking officers testified to the actions of their superiors. Police also detained two civilian defendants, Mr. Batmaz and Mr. Binis, near the base in the morning after the coup attempt and rejected their explanation that the properties were out.
The relatives of the defendants and the lawyers representing them complained of harassment and other obstacles to their work. The defendants complained of torture and ill-treatment in the first days after their arrest.
But during the trial, the defendants were allowed to make their own statements and respond to the charges, sometimes reading their testimony for hours and even days. All defendants, like the lawyers, were able to make final remarks.
Mehmet Alagoz, who runs the July 15 coup profile platform, founded by lawyers representing a multitude of victims killed and injured in the coup attempt, said he had appealed to some of the accused for missions or to uncover illegal proceedings. bring an action before the European Court of Human Rights.
“The court has made extraordinary efforts to make this a fair trial at both the trial and prosecution levels because the defendants have developed the protection of the European Court from the outset,” he said in a telephone interview.
“There were 475 defendants, hundreds of witnesses,” he added. “The court gave everyone room to defend, regardless of time. The trial lasted three and a half years.
During full interrogations, some defendants cursed the Gulen movement, some criticized their superiors for putting them in trouble, but some leaders continued to firmly reject the existence of another coup and opposed Mr Erdogan’s government.
“There were defendants who refused to see themselves on videotapes,” Mr Alagoz said. Some sent a coded message of support to Mr. Gulen at the end, he added.
“Even in their last remarks, they dared to threaten the court,” he said.