Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul, Turkey, June 19 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER
Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul, Turkey, June 19 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER

Sincan — On Thursday, a Turkish court gave life sentences to 151 people, including senior military officers, in one of the country’s biggest trials over the 2016 failed bid to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The judge handed 128 of those convicted between one and 141 aggravated life terms each over the deaths of 139 people, for “violating the constitution” and “attempting to assassinate the president”, the private DHA news agency reported. Such sentences carry harsher prison conditions.

A further 23 individuals were given customary life sentences, the agency said, while 27 suspects received prison sentences of up to 20 years.

Among the suspects was US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkey accuses of ordering the attempted putsch in which hundreds were killed and thousands more injured.

Gülen strongly denies the claims. Turkey has failed to secure his extradition.

Former air force chief Akin Öztürk and Mehmet Dişli, the brother of former ruling party lawmaker Saban Dişli, who since September has served as Turkey’s ambassador to the Netherlands, were among those convicted.

Lieutenant-Colonel Levent Turkkan, who was the aide to then chief of staff, General Hulusi Akar, was given one aggravated life sentence, state news agency Anadolu reported. Akar was appointed defence minister in July 2018.

Thirty-three suspects were acquitted.

‘Exemplary Turkish justice’

There was a tense atmosphere minutes before the judge issued his verdicts with dozens of people, including relatives of those killed during the coup bid in July 2016, slamming the court for not allowing them to enter.

Saliha Arigan, whose son was killed on the night of the failed overthrow, pressed herself against the gates, crying and shouting to be allowed inside. “The state should be ashamed,” she said. Even as the verdicts were handed down, the strained mood continued with further attempts by individuals to enter the courtroom complex by force.

“I say justice should be done. But I have no trust. May my son rest forever and the traitors be executed,” Arigan later told AFP. An AFP correspondent was barred from entering the courtroom by police.

Justice minister Abdulhamit Gül hailed the verdicts, praising “exemplary” Turkish judiciary and told journalists: “Justice has been delivered.”

Erdoğan aide sentenced 

The trial began in May 2017 in the country’s largest courtroom inside a prison complex in Sincan, outside the capital Ankara.

The court also handed down an aggravated life sentence for “violating the constitution” to Colonel Ali Yazici, Erdoğan’s former military aide, Anadolu reported. Yazici had already been sentenced to 18 years in jail in 2017 after a trial of dozens who plotted to assassinate Erdoğan at a luxury Aegean hotel during the coup attempt.

Former Brigadier-General Gökhan Şahin Sönmezateş, who was suspected of leading an assassination attempt against Erdoğan on the night of the coup bid, was given 137 aggravated life sentences and a 540-year prison sentence, Anadolu said.

The judge ordered the case of 13 fugitives including Gülen to be separated from the main coup ringleaders’ trial.

The failed overthrow left 248 people dead, according to the Turkish presidency, not including 24 coup-plotters killed on the night.

Dozens of those on trial were accused of being members of the “Peace At Home Council”, the name the plotters apparently gave themselves on the night of the coup attempt.

Since July 2016, tens of thousands of people have been arrested over alleged links to the coup bid under a two-year state of emergency which ended last year. But nationwide raids by police have continued and there are almost daily reports of public prosecutors issuing detention warrants for suspects over Gülen ties.

Nearly 290 coup-linked court cases have been launched, 261 of which ended with 3,239 defendants convicted, according to justice ministry figures given to AFP before the verdicts.