Top court upholds hundreds of life sentences in Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt trial

Turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals building in Ankara.

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld sentences handed down to 430 of 469 defendants, most of whom were sentenced to life in prison in 2020, for leading a coup attempt from an airbase near Ankara in 2016, Turkish Minute reported.

In one of the biggest court proceedings related to the 2016 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a court had sentenced the majority of 475 defendants to life in November 2020, including army commanders and pilots.

In 2020, a total of 337 defendants, including at least 25 F-16 pilots, were given aggravated life sentences — the severest punishment in Turkish courts — meaning there is no possibility of parole.

On the night of the abortive putsch, the parliament was hit three times by F-16 fighter jets as was the road near the presidential palace and the headquarters of the special forces and the Ankara police.

The 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the 77 aggravated life sentences for 18 people, including civilian defendants Kemal Batmaz, Hakan Çiçek, Nurettin Oruç and Harun Biniş, who were considered ringleaders, for the attempted assassination of the president, the murder of 75 people and the attempt to overthrow the constitutional order.

The court also upheld additional sentences of 3,865 years handed down to each of these defendants for crimes such as attempted murder and deprivation of liberty.

In the same ruling, the top court overturned some convictions and acquittals, ordering retrials for several individuals. This included cases where defendants were initially charged with aiding the attempt to overthrow the constitutional order and were now deemed primary perpetrators. Others had their sentences overturned due to insufficient investigation or procedural errors.

Among the judgments overturned by the top court are the cases of several people who died in the course of the court proceedings.

More than 250 civilians lost their lives on July 15, 2016 as part of the abortive putsch that aimed to overthrow Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which Ankara blamed on members of the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by the teachings of Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen.

The 82-year-old Gülen, who lives in the US and was among six defendants tried in absentia, has denied any role in the attempted coup. The dossiers of those defendants were separated from the main trial in 2020.

Despite the strong denial of Gülen and his followers, Ankara removed in excess of 130,000 civil servants from their jobs and imprisoned more than 90,000 people over links to the movement as part of a massive purge launched under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

Seven years on, police operations targeting suspects accused of links to the self-exiled preacher continue on a regular basis.

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