A Turkish court has jailed 337 former pilots and other suspects for life over plot to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a failed coup attempt four years ago, a court document obtained by AFP news agency showed on Thursday.
Nearly 500 defendants were accused of carrying out the attempt to overthrow the government on July 15, 2016, from an airbase near the capital Ankara.
A total of 475 defendants, including some generals and fighter jet pilots at the Akinci air base, on the outskirts of the capital, Ankara, had been on trial for the past three years, accused of directing the coup and bombing key government buildings, including a section of Turkey’s parliament.
The massive trial was one of two main trials against suspected members of a network led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the failed attempt.
Gulen, who was also named among the defendants, has denied involvement in the coup that resulted in around 250 deaths and injured thousands. About 30 coup-plotters were also killed.
The court convicted four men — civilians accused of liaising between Gulen’s movement and some military officers — of crimes against the state, attempts to kill the president as well as 77 counts of murder, and sentenced them to 79 separate “aggravated” life sentences without the possibility of parole. Fifteen officers, including one-star generals, were also sentenced to the same term.
All 19 were held responsible for the deaths of nine people who were killed by gunshots and 68 people who died in aerial attacks on the parliament building, a police special operations headquarters, the Ankara police department and an area close to Erdogan’s presidential complex.
A total of 318 other defendants were also sentenced to life prison terms. The court acquitted 70 of the defendants of all charges. Other defendants received prison terms ranging between six and 16 years.
The court ruled that Gulen, an alleged top operative in his movement and four other defendants still wanted by the Turkish authorities, should be tried separately over the charges.
A strict state of emergency followed the coup that resulted in more than 100,000 people being purged from their government jobs.