Turkey’s top appeals court overturns prison sentences of privates in 2016 coup case: report

İstanbul Bosphorus bridge on the night of the coup attempt, July 15, 2016.

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals has overturned a decision by a lower court sentencing 14 privates to life in prison on charges of involvement in a failed coup in July 2016, recommending that the lower court acquit them, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Tele1 news website.

The appeals court said the privates “had no choice but to obey their commanders,” emphasizing that they had stopped following orders once they realized, albeit belatedly, that their mobilization was part of a coup attempt and declined to shoot at civilians and other security forces resisting them. The court cited the legal concept of “unavoidable error,” which requires ruling in favor of the defendants.

The court also said the insistence of the commanders on their unlawful orders compelled the defendants to fire their weapons into the air and that given the circumstances their act could not be construed as wrongdoing.

The ruling was interpreted as critical for the fate of other privates and military cadets who were also handed down lengthy prison sentences on coup-related charges.

On July 15, 2016 elements within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) attempted to mount a coup against the government by seizing control of key locations in Ankara and İstanbul.

Many privates and other low-ranking soldiers as well as military cadets were caught up in the incident, deployed by their commanders who in some instances led them to believe that they were acting against an anticipated terror attack. Turkey was hit by a number of bomb attacks that year, particularly by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

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