Military cadets did not know a coup attempt was unfolding, top court says

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals, which earlier this month overturned life sentences handed down to dozens of military cadets who were convicted on coup charges, has said in its reasoned opinion that the cadets did not know a coup attempt was unfolding on the night of July 15, 2016 and did not take part in the acts of the coup plotters, Turkish Minute reported.

The decision of the 3rd Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals concerned incidents taking place in the Sultanbeyli neighborhood of İstanbul on the night of the coup attempt, which was suppressed overnight and led to the death of 251 people.

There were 122 defendants in the trial, and the court overturned the sentences of 116 air force academy cadets with its decision on June 21, which led to relief among the families of the cadets as well as rights activists who have been saying for years that the cadets were jailed unjustly. The 116 cadets had been convicted of attempting to overturn the constitutional order.

The top court also upheld aggravated life sentences handed down to three former senior military officers. The court said 101 of the cadets did not know anything about the coup and they did not take part in any acts perpetrated by the coup plotters. As for the remaining 15 cadets, the court said it could not be verified whether these cadets had known about the coup attempt but it was proved that these cadets resisted civilians and police officers, fired shots into the air and made some police officers lie on the ground during the incidents. The court said these cadets displayed a willingness to take part in a crime, hence handed down a prison sentence of 20 years to each of them on charges of aiding an attempt aimed at overturning the constitutional order.

With the court’s decision, 66 military cadets who had been behind bars for six years were released from the notorious Silivri Prison in İstanbul where most political prisoners are held. The cadets, who were released on judicial probation and under a travel ban, will be retried.

The cadets were initially handed down aggravated life sentences by the court on charges of violating the constitution, but their sentences were later reduced to life in prison for good behavior during the trial.

During their trial, the cadets denied taking part in the coup attempt and said they were only acting on orders from their superiors, who told them there was a terrorist attack.

The cadets said the only surprising thing on July 15, 2016 was an unplanned morning visit by then-Air Forces Commander Gen. Abidin Ünal to their training camp in Yalova.

Turkish media reported claims that during a speech to cadets in Yalova on July 15, Ünal underlined the importance of carrying out the orders of their commanders.

Columnist Ahmet Nesin wrote on the Artıgerçek news website that during his unplanned visit Ünal told the commander of the camp to cancel all training activities in the afternoon: “He told the commander ‘Don’t tire the boys out; they’ll get tired this evening’.”

A total of 259 military cadets were detained on coup charges on July 16, 2016 and were arrested four days later. The cadets were indicted a year after they were put in pretrial detention, and their trial was concluded in 2018. One hundred seventy-eight of the cadets were given life sentences on charges of attempting to overturn the constitutional order and attempting to overthrow the government and parliament by use of force as well as membership in a terrorist organization.

Immediately after the abortive putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the faith-based Gülen movement. The movement strongly denies any involvement.

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