A Turkish court has sentenced leaders of the attempted coup in 2016 to life imprisonment, convicting hundreds of army officers, pilots and civilians over the failed effort to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
More than 250 people were killed on 15 July 2016 when rogue soldiers commandeered warplanes, helicopters and tanks to take control of institutions and overthrow the government, directed from an airbase near the capital, Ankara.
The trial of nearly 500 defendants was the highest profile of dozens of court cases targeting thousands of people accused of involvement in the coup attempt, which Erdoğan blamed on supporters of the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. He has denied having any role.
Based at the Akıncı airbase, the defendants were accused of directing the coup and bombing government buildings, including parliament, and attempting to kill Erdoğan. Many of the military commanders involved have already been sentenced to life in jail.
“The treacherous network which rained bombs on parliament, the presidency and our people was convicted again before justice and our nation,” said Ömer Çelik, the spokesman for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AK).
“It is continuing to organise every kind of treachery in various countries to harm Turkey,” he tweeted. “Our battle with putschist terrorism will continue.”
Four ringleaders, dubbed “civilian imams” over their ties to Gülen’s network, were among 19 defendants who received 79 aggravated life sentences for charges of attempting to assassinate the president, murder, and seeking to overthrow the constitutional order, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said.
F-16 pilots who carried out attacks were also among those given aggravated life sentences – the severest punishment in Turkish courts – meaning there is no possibility of parole.
Most of the other defendants also received life sentences, while 19 were jailed for aiding the coup and 41 for membership of a terrorist group. Seventy people were acquitted, Anadolu said.
Turkey’s military chief at the time and now defence minister, Hulusi Akar, and other commanders were held captive for several hours at the base on the night of the coup attempt. A total of 475 people were on trial, 365 of them in custody.
Gülen, 79, who was once an ally of Erdoğan and has denied any role in the coup, was one of six defendants tried in absentia. Their dossiers were separated from the main trial, media reports said.
The government declared a state of emergency in Turkey – a Nato member and a long-time candidate for EU membership – after the failed coup and carried out a large-scale crackdown that alarmed Ankara’s western allies.
About 292,000 people have been detained over alleged links to Gülen, with nearly 100,000 of them jailed pending trial, Anadolu cited the interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, as saying.
About 150,000 civil servants were sacked or suspended after the coup attempt, with 20,000 expelled from the military. Courts have handed down more than 2,500 life sentences.
Four years on, police operations targeting suspects accused of links to Gülen continue on a regular basis.
The government has said the crackdown was needed given the security challenges Turkey has faced in rooting out a network of alleged Gülen supporters deeply embedded in the state apparatus.