Turkey jails 22 former soldiers for life over 2016 coup attempt

Sentences handed down for occupying a state broadcaster and forcing anchors to read out a statement.

An unidentified soldier accused of attempting to assassinate Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the night of the failed last year''s July 15 coup, is escorted by gendarmes
As many as 248 people died in the failed coup, excluding 24 putschists killed on the night [File: Osman Orsal/Reuters]

A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced 22 former soldiers to life in jail for their roles in a failed 2016 bid to remove President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In its latest mass trial of suspects whose failure to depose Erdogan was followed by a sweeping political crackdown and arrests, an Ankara court investigated the role of 497 former soldiers, including members of 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 leaders.

One of the president’s lawyers provided AFP news agency with a document showing the judge jailing 22 former ranking military personnel for life.

These included former lieutenant colonel Umit Gencer, who was convicted of “violating the constitutional order” by making TRT television read out a “coup declaration”.

Tough terms

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, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Former colonel Muhammet Tanju Poshor received his sentence for directing the occupation of the TRT building, it added.

An aggravated life sentence has tougher terms of detention and 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.

Final Ankara trial

The verdict was read out in the country’s largest courtroom, which was built to hear coup trials at the Sincan prison complex in Ankara province.

The case into the regiment began in October 2017, with 243 hearings, Anadolu Agency said. The end of the trial marks the end of the cases heard in the capital nearly five years later.

In an unprecedented legal process, thousands have been given life sentences in trials across Turkey, with indictments spanning thousands of pages and lawyers painstakingly working through the cases.

As many as 248 people died in the failed coup, excluding 24 putschists killed on the night.

Turkey accuses US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the coup, a claim he strongly denies.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested over alleged links to Gulen since 2016, and police raids continue to this day.

More than 100,000 have been sacked or suspended from the public sector over similar allegations.

Akin Ozturk, a former Turkish Air Force commander who is accused of plotting and orchestrating last year''s failed coup, is escorted by gendarmes as he arrives at the court in Ankara
Thousands have been arrested for plotting Turkey’s failed coup [File: Reuters]

‘Political coup’

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 criticised his plans for a new canal in Istanbul in an open letter. Ten of the former admirals were detained as part of an investigation into their open letter.

Turkey has been condemned by its Western allies and rights groups over the crackdown, purges, and erosion of judicial independence following the failed July 2016 coup.

Critics accuse the government of using the incident as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.

The government of Erdogan says the purges and detentions are in line with the rule of law, and aim to remove Gulen’s supporters from state institutions and other parts of society.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies